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Texas governor cites state’s ‘right of self defence’ for border standoff with federal government

A Texas Department of Public Safety officer guards an entrance to Shelby Park, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas (© 2024 Sam Owens / San Antonio Express-News)
A Texas Department of Public Safety officer guards an entrance to Shelby Park, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas (© 2024 Sam Owens / San Antonio Express-News)

Texas governor Greg Abbott invoked his state’s “constitutional authority to defend itself” on Wednesday when explaining his defiance of the federal government in a dispute over the control of a stretch of the border with Mexico.

A tense stand-off between Texas National Guard troops and the federal government has escalated in recent days after the state refused to comply with a Supreme Court order allowing border patrol agents to remove razor wire placed by Mr Abbott’s administration at a park in Eagle Pass, on the Rio Grande.

Mr Abbott doubled down on that refusal on Tuesday by continuing to block the federal agency agents from accessing the area and adding more razor wire.

Defending his decision, the governor accused President Joe Biden of refusing to enforce immigration laws.

"President Biden has violated his oath to faithfully execute immigration laws enacted by Congress," he said in a statement. "Instead of prosecuting immigrants for the federal crime of illegal entry, President Biden has sent his lawyers into federal courts to sue Texas for taking action to secure the border."

Mr Abbott further invoked his own state’s “constitutional authority to defend and protect itself” for continuing to block federal agents from the border.

“That authority is the supreme law of the land and supersedes any federal statutes to the contrary,” he added.

For years now, Mr Abbott has led an aggressive campaign to deter migrants from crossing the border, which has created tensions with the Biden administration. The Justice Department recently sued Texas after Mr Abbott passed a law allowing migrants to be arrested for crossing the border.

The dispute at Eagle Pass has transformed a hitherto political battle between Republicans and Democrats into an unprecedented physical standoff between state and federal governments.

Mr Abbott’s defence comes a day after the Texas National Guard vowed to “hold the line” and “protect the sovereignty of our State” in the dispute with the US government.

“The Texas Military Department continues to hold the line in Shelby Park to deter and prevent unlawful entry into the State of Texas. We remain resolute in our actions to secure our border, preserve the rule of law, and protect the sovereignty of our State,” it said in a statement.

The dispute has also led to right-wing Republicans rallying behind Texas and cast the standoff as something akin to a civil war.

“The feds are staging a civil war, and Texas should stand their ground,” Rep. Clay Higgins, a GOP congressman from Louisiana, said following the Supreme Court decision.

Republican congressman Chip Roy encouraged officials in his home state of Texas to ignore the Supreme Court ruling entirely.

“This opinion is unconscionable and Texas should ignore it on behalf of the [Border Patrol Union] agents who will be put in a worse position by the opinion and the Biden administration’s policies,” Mr Roy wrote on X on Monday.