BORDER SECURITYIn Eagle Pass, a Tense Border Standoff Between Texas and the Federal Government Is Reaching a Crescendo

By Uriel J. García

Published 22 January 2024

A park on the Rio Grande is the new focus of a long battle over border enforcement that’s reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Under federal law, the federal government has sole authority to enforce immigration laws — a power that’s been affirmed by Supreme Court decisions, but Gov. Greg Abbott, in the past three years, has convinced state lawmakers to spend more than $10 billion in an attempt to deter hundreds of thousands of migrants who have crossed the Rio Grande into Texas, many of whom are seeking asylum.

On a chilly January afternoon, a military drone hovers over Shelby Park as Texas National Guard members pull boats from the Rio Grande and slide them onto trailers. Shipping containers topped with concertina wire line the riverbank, where men in fatigues erect a bilingual sign near the boat ramp that reads:

No migrant processing at this location. Please proceed to nearest port of entry for processing with U.S. Border Patrol.

The entire 47-acre park, including the golf course, is enclosed with concertina wire and patrolled by state troopers from Texas and Florida. At the entrance, behind a chain-link fence, three National Guard members lean against a green humvee, strapped with rifles.

“It looks like a war zone in a third-world country,” said real estate agent and Eagle Pass resident Carlos Herrera, who lives nearby with his wife and baby daughter.

No one can enter this city park without asking permission — soldiers let two journalists pass and wander around the park last week. But U.S. Border Patrol agents are strictly prohibited from the park grounds, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The park has turned into a battleground in an escalating legal fight between the Biden administration and Gov. Greg Abbott, who for the past three years has convinced state lawmakers to spend more than $10 billion in an attempt to deter hundreds of thousands of migrants who have crossed the Rio Grande into Texas, many of whom are seeking asylum.

Caught in the middle are residents of this mostly Mexican American town of 28,000 residents, some who say they feel helpless after the state seized their park. Revenue-generating events like Noches Mexicanas, an annual family event with live music and vendors, that are scheduled for the spring in Shelby Park may be canceled.

“If you ask every citizen here in Eagle Pass, if you talk to them, they’re going to tell you, they wish everything would go back to normal,” Herrera said. “They wish we can have our event at Shelby Park like we do every year for the past 20 years. But can we do anything about it at this point? I don’t think so.”

During the Trump administration, there were also large increases in migrant apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border. But when President Biden took office in 2021 and began canceling some Trump policies, Abbott launched an effort that put the state on a collision course with the federal government over immigration enforcement.