Border

Texas attorney general asks federal court for quick action to prevent destruction of border barriers

Friday’s action capped a week where Texas continued to test the limits of how far it can go to initiate its own immigration laws.

A young girl is lifted over concertina wire are she and other other migrants crossed the Rio Grande and entered the U.S. from Mexico head to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay

The Texas Attorney General's office has asked a federal judge to take quick action against federal border agents who the state alleges have increased destruction of barriers near the Rio Grande.

Paxton sued the Biden administration on Tuesday after reports and videos surfaced last month showing that U.S. Border Patrol agents have cut pieces of concertina wiring placed along the state's border with Mexico as part of Gov. Greg Abbott's Operation Lone Star.

In a Friday court filing, Paxton's office said that federal agents have ramped up the practice after the state filed its lawsuit.

"Defendants, it seems, are not content to have this Court decide these issues. Instead, just two days after Texas notified them of this lawsuit, federal agents escalated matters, trading bolt cutters for an industrial-strength telehandler forklift to dismantle Texas's border fence," the filing states. It includes a photo of large portions of wiring being lifted as people who appear to be migrants stand behind it.

Paxton's emergency motion asks the court to issue a temporary restraining order halting the practice as the case proceeds. Paxton has already asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction.

"Defendants' repeated destruction of Texas's concertina wire irreparably harms Texas because it facilitates increased illegal entry into the State," the filing adds.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Del Rio names several defendants: U.S. Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller and acting Del Rio Border Patrol Sector Chief Juan Bernal.

The wiring and other barriers were installed as part of Operation Lone Star, a state-led border mission Abbott started in 2021 after Biden took office. The mission includes the deployment of thousands of Texas National Guard and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers to the border.

Texas DPS director Steve McCraw has said the border barriers are an effort to, in part, deter migrants from crossing the Rio Grande and instead present themselves at a port of entry. But immigration attorneys and other advocates say that migrants are legally allowed to seek asylum once they reach U.S. soil, even if they cross at places other than a port of entry.

Owens told Reuters last month that his agents have the right to remove barriers if necessary.

"If [migrants] start getting swept away by the currents, if they start succumbing to the environment — the extreme temperatures, the humidity you all feel right now — and my men and women see that, they are not going to let somebody die or get into harm’s way,” he said.

The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Transportation ban lawsuit

In a separate court battle, a three-judge panel of appellate judges on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed by immigrant rights groups that challenged an executive order Abbott issued in 2021, Reuters reported. The order prohibited anyone other than law enforcement from transporting undocumented immigrants throughout the state.

The lawsuit by immigrant rights groups alleged the practice tried to override federal immigration laws and would also "[open] the door to profiling, standardless detention, questioning, vehicle seizure, rerouting, and heavy fines."

But the appellate court's panel ruled 2-1 that the immigrant advocacy group didn't have standing to sue the governor over his executive order. However, Friday’s ruling doesn't affect an injunction issued during another lawsuit — that one by the Biden administration — according to the report.

Friday's action capped a week where Texas continued to test the limits of how far it can go to initiate its own immigration laws.

Early Thursday the Texas House passed a package of laws that appropriate $1.5 billion to construct state-built border barriers; increase penalties for operators of stash houses and human smuggling; and authorizing local and state law enforcement to return undocumented immigrants to Mexico and make unauthorized entry a state crime.

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