Buoys Placed Near Eagle Pass, Texas
A string of buoys is deployed to prevent migrants from swimming across the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass on July 13, 2023. Jordan Vonderhaar/The Texas Tribune

Texas said it will refuse to comply with a cease-and-desist letter from the Biden administration aimed at stopping the state from blocking access to an area of the U.S. southern border.

Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to the administration saying that the "facts and law side with Texas" in its decision to have the state's national guard take over Shelby Park, a hotspot of immigration in Eagle Pass.

Therefore, Paxton added, "the State will continue utilizing its constitutional authority to defend her territory, and I will continue defending those lawful efforts in court."

The government, which has labeled Texas' actions as "clearly unconstitutional," had already warned it would refer the matter to the Department of Justice if the state didn't comply with the cease-and-desist letter sent by the Department of Homeland Security.

Shelby Park is used by Border Patrol agents to inspect and hold migrants and, according to DHS' top lawyer Jonathan Meyer, National Guard forces prevented federal operations to apprehend migrants and rescue those who might be in distress.

The letter cited the deaths of a woman and two children on Friday night as they attempted to cross the Río Grande in that area. Border Patrol authorities said they were made aware of a situation of distress but were prevented from responding by Texas national guard troops under the direction of Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

Governor Greg Abbott
Texas Governor Greg Abbott VERONICA CARDENAS/Reuters

"In responding to a distress call from the Mexican government, Border Patrol agents were physically barred by Texas officials from entering the area," a border spokesperson said about the issue.

The Texas Military Department, on its end, disputed the account, saying its personnel were made aware of a distress report but could find no migrants needing help in the river and later were made aware of an incident nearby, on the Mexican side of the river, that did not require their help.

The parties are at odds over immigration enforcement, with the Department of Justice filing a lawsuit claiming a new Texas law, which allows local officials to arrest and deport migrants who cross the border unlawfully, is also unconstitutional.

SB4, as Texas' law is known, makes it a misdemeanor to illegally cross the border and a second-degree felony to do so for a second time. Punishments for this latter case range between 180 days in jail to 20 years in prison. The law also allows judges to order that undocumented people "return to the foreign nation from which they entered."

Texas governor Greg Abbott, on his end, is upping the ante with new, harsher remarks on immigration enforcement. In an interview with Dana Loesch, former spokesperson for the National Riffle Association (NRA), Abbott lamented that Texas authorities cannot shoot migrants who cross the border illegally because the federal government could charge them with murder.

"The only thing that we're not doing is we're not shooting people who come across the border because of course, the Biden administration would charge us with murder," Abbott said.

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