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As border standoff between Texas and feds grows, so does concern over possible violence

Concertina wire lines the path as members of Congress tour an area near the Texas-Mexico border, Jan. 3, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas. A divided Supreme Court on Monday, Jan. 22, allowed Border Patrol agents to cut razor wire that Texas installed on the U.S.-Mexico border, while a lawsuit over the wire continues
AP Photo/Eric Gay
Concertina wire lines the path as members of Congress tour an area near the Texas-Mexico border, Jan. 3, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas. A divided Supreme Court on Monday, Jan. 22, allowed Border Patrol agents to cut razor wire that Texas installed on the U.S.-Mexico border, while a lawsuit over the wire continues

As the standoff between the state and federal government on Texas’ southern border escalates, advocacy groups are joining Democrats in a call for the Biden administration to act more forcefully.

Members of the Texas National Guard have blocked the U.S. Border Patrol’s access to Shelby Park, which sits on the Rio Grande and was previously a hot spot for unauthorized crossings in Maverick County. That’s despite a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court last week that federal agents should be given access and be allowed to cut through razor wire erected by state officers until the case is finally resolved.

Abbott has vowed to stand his ground. He ordered more razor wire installed near the Rio Grande after the decision, and argued last week that Texas has the right to defend itself against “a lawless president who does nothing to stop external threats” through an article in the U.S. Constitution. The razor-wire standoff is a byproduct of Operation Lone Star, a three-year, multi-billion effort Abbott launched to secure the border in light of what he said was Biden’s failure to do so.

“That authority is the supreme law of the land and supersedes any federal statutes to the contrary. The Texas National Guard, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and other Texas personnel are acting on that authority, as well as state law, to secure the Texas border,” Abbott said.

Late Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told Jonathan E. Meyer, the general counsel for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, that Texas will remain in place.

“As I said before, this office will continue to defend Texas’s efforts to protect its southern border against every effort by the Biden Administration to undermine the State’s constitutional right of self-defense.” Paxton stated in a letter. “You should advise your clients to join us in those efforts by doing their job and following the law.”

Paxton also demanded that the DHS provide the state with more evidence that state officers are blocking the federal agents’ access to the park.

On Thursday, a group of Catholic organizations — including the Hope Border Institute, the Franciscan Action Network and the Jesuit Refugee Service/USA — urged the White House to be more forceful in efforts to stop the state of Texas from taking matters into its own hands.

“Operation Lone Star has created an environment fraught with racial and ethnic bias, compromising the safety and well-being of those seeking refuge,” the groups said in a statement. “Catholic border advocates urgently petition the Biden administration to take immediate action to address these grave concerns.”

The call to action followed a statement issued by U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, urging Biden to take over the state’s guard units.

“Governor Abbott is using the Texas National Guard to obstruct and create chaos at the border,” Castro said in a statement. "President Biden needs to establish sole federal control of the Texas National Guard immediately."

Meanwhile, 25 Republican state governors released a joint statement on Thursday supporting Abbott’s efforts.

“We do it in part because the Biden Administration is refusing to enforce immigration laws already on the books and is illegally allowing mass parole across America of migrants who entered our country illegally,” they wrote.

Right-wing convoys plan border rallies next week

As part of their efforts to support Abbott and other border hawks, a group called Take Our Border Back is urging “active & retired law enforcement and military, Veterans, Mama Bears, elected officials, business owners, ranchers, truckers, bikers, media and LAW ABIDING, freedom-loving Americans” to join three separate convoys that will make planned stops in California, Arizona and Texas next month, including a Feb. 3 stop in Eagle Pass.

While the group calls for “We the People to peacefully assemble,” the effort has drawn scrutiny due to the rhetoric surfacing on online message boards leading up to the events.

Statements in chat groups posted by people who said they will be part of the convoy include references to possible acts of violence, WIRED magazine reported Friday. The publication reported that one Texan posted on Telegram that: “There is a point where we are going to have to get our hands dirty. I've dealt with MANY bullies in my life, and I've never been able to reason with them. The one universal language bullies understand is when you push them back.”

Some of the participants are also calling themselves members of “God’s Army” that will stand against efforts to destroy the country, Vice reported.

America’s Voice, which advocates for immigrants and a compassionate overhaul of the country’s immigration system, said the rhetoric shouldn’t be taken lightly.

“We cannot ignore the danger their efforts to ‘otherize’ immigrants represent to our democracy,” Vanessa Cárdenas, the executive director of America’s Voice, said in a statement. “We must not collectively become desensitized to it. This moment is unlike anything we have seen since the standoffs about desegregation in the 1960s.”

Stephen Vladeck, the Charles Alan Wright Chair in Federal Courts at the University of Texas School of Law, said that could lead to physical confrontations if the situation isn’t resolved.

“Until and unless the Supreme Court resolves (the problem), Governor Abbott, I think, is going to feel emboldened to keep pushing the envelope to the point where we’re looking at the kinds of potential physical confrontation between federal and state officials, the likes of which we have not seen since the desegregation cases of the 1950s and 1960s,” he told the Texas Standard.

Copyright 2024 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Julián Aguilar | The Texas Newsroom