Washington — A federal judge on Monday temporarily barred the Biden administration and Border Patrol agents from removing the razor wire Texas state officials have set up to hinder the entry of migrants along the border with Mexico, with limited exceptions, such as medical emergencies.
Chief U.S. District Court Judge Alia Moses blocked federal officials from removing, scrapping, disassembling or encumbering concertina wire that Texas state authorities assembled near the border town of Eagle Pass to impede the passage of migrants entering the country illegally. Moses said federal officials could only remove the wire to "provide or obtain emergency medical aid."
The order is an early legal victory for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and other Texas officials in their latest lawsuit against the Biden administration, which has found itself defending most of its major immigration policies from lawsuits filed by officials in the Lone Star state and other GOP-led states. The ruling, however, will not be the final say on the matter.
The Texas lawsuit
When it filed its lawsuit last week, Texas said Border Patrol agents were cutting its razor wire to facilitate the entry of migrants into the U.S. In a statement after the ruling, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said federal agents were seen three days later "escalating their efforts to destroy Texas's border barriers, using heavy machinery such as forklifts to uproot large sections of fencing to facilitate mass entry." That prompted his request for the restraining order that was approved Monday.
"By acting quickly and monitoring their actions closely, we were able to secure a restraining order, and I am confident we will continue to prevail," Paxton said in a statement.
Moses' temporary restraining order will last for two weeks, through Nov. 13. She scheduled a hearing on the case for Nov. 7.
Administration officials have said Border Patrol agents sometimes cut Texas' razor wire to provide medical assistance to migrants in distress and because they need to process migrants who have already set foot on U.S. soil.
A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on the specifics in the case, but said Border Patrol agents "have a responsibility under federal law to take those who have crossed onto U.S. soil without authorization into custody for processing, as well as to act when there are conditions that put our workforce or migrants at risk." The department will "of course" comply with the order, the spokesperson said.
U.S. law requires federal immigration agents to process migrants to determine whether they should be deported, released, detained or transferred to another agency once they reach American soil, which is the middle of the Rio Grande in Texas' case.
A larger feud
The feud over the razor wire is the latest clash between the federal government and Abbott, who has accused President Biden, a Democrat, of not doing enough to deter illegal border crossings, which have reached record high levels over the past two years.
In fiscal year 2023, which ended on Sept. 30, Border Patrol recorded over 2 million apprehensions of migrants along the Mexican border, federal data show. It was only the second time the agency has surpassed that threshold.
Along with deploying National Guard units to the southern border to set up razor wire and impede the entry of migrants, Texas has been arresting some migrants on state trespassing charges and busing thousands of asylum-seekers to Democratic-led cities like New York and Chicago, without notifying local authorities.