Supreme Court rules for Biden administration in Texas border dispute

Barbed wire stretches along the Rio Grande on the United States side of the border to prevent the passage of undocumented migrants in Eagle Pass on Thursday, June 2, 2022. (Lola Gomez/Dallas Morning News/TNS)
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By David G. Savage | Los Angeles Times (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled for the Biden administration in a 5-4 vote Monday and said Border Patrol agents may cut barbed wire installed by Texas authorities that prevents them from patrolling areas along the Rio Grande.

The justices set aside an order handed down by the 5th Circuit Court that prohibited Border Patrol agents from “damaging, destroying, or otherwise interfering with Texas’s concertina wire fence in the vicinity of Eagle Pass, Texas.”

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh dissented.

U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar had appealed to the Supreme Court on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security and argued that the Constitution gives federal agents, not state officials, the power to enforce the law along the border.

“Federal law unambiguously grants Border Patrol agents the authority, without a warrant, to access private land within 25 miles of the international border,” she said in Department of Homeland Security vs. Texas.

Prelogar said that Texas has responded to “increased border crossings” by placing “rolls of concertina wire (a type of coiled razor wire) in numerous locations, including as relevant here along a 29-mile stretch of the riverbank in Eagle Pass, much of which is private land,” she said.

The wire coils “stand between Border Patrol agents and the border and the noncitizens along the border they are charged with inspecting and apprehending — thus physically obstructing agents from fulfilling their responsibilities under federal law.”

That in turn prompted “agents [to] cut or move the wire in some circumstances,” Prelogar said.

She argued the Texas policy and the court order that upheld it conflict with the “foundational constitutional principle that the federal government is not bound by the laws or policies of any particular state in its enactment and implementation of federal law.”

Texas officials argued the barbed wire “serves as a deterrent — an effective one at that” causing illegal border crossings to drop significantly. They described the Eagle Pass area as “the epicenter of the present migrant influx: nearly a quarter of migrant entries into the United States happen there.”

A federal judge cited photos that showed columns of migrants leaving the river area and said the Border Patrol cut the wire “for no apparent purpose other than to allow migrants easier entrance further inland.”

But Border Patrol agents aiding the migrants were walking inland to a processing center.
Shortly after the Biden administration appealed to the high court, a woman and two of her children drowned trying to cross the river.

The Border Patrol said its agents had been blocked from getting to the river to help with a rescue, but Texas officials said the deaths had been reported before the federal agents arrived.


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