Gov. Greg Abbott hands President Biden a letter at El Paso International Airport. Photo Courtesy of Andrew Harnick / Associated Press

The years-long battle over national security and immigration policy between the Biden administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott came to a head in a stand-off at Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, TX earlier this year.

The park has been the center of Abbott’s aggressive measures to stop migration through the Texas-Mexico border by installing concertina wire and buoy barriers along the Rio Grande.

Abbott took over the city park situated along the river and has denied access to federal Border Patrol agents since early January in an effort to prevent them from processing migrants and directing emergency rescues on the river.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said, following the denial of entry to federal agents, Mexican officials discovered three deceased migrants—two of whom were children—who drowned near the park.

“The Texas governor’s policies are cruel, dangerous, and inhumane, and Texas’s blatant disregard for federal authority over immigration poses grave risks,” Homeland Security spokesman Luis Miranda said in a statement.

Gov. Abbott’s history of strict border control

Abbott launched Operation Lone Star in March 2021, which deployed the Texas National Guard and Texas Department of Public Safety to the southern border. Abbott posed the operation as a response to what he called “reckless open border policies” by Biden’s administration and mass amounts of migrants crossing the border illegally.

In August 2021, Abbott renewed a disaster declaration for 43 Texas counties that are near or on the border. This disaster declaration gave Abbott the authority to send the Texas National Guard to the southern border and increase trespassing penalties for migrants.

The declaration also gave Abbott the ability to request the reallocation of legislatively appropriated funds ranging up to approximately $250 million toward border wall construction projects.

In September 2021, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 9, allowing the state to allocate $2 billion for border security efforts over the next two years. Texas HB 9 also included $750 million for state-funded border wall construction.

Texas authorities, under the direction of Abbott, have arrested thousands of people at the border since 2021 on misdemeanor trespassing charges.

The Texas Tribune found,“Hundreds of people arrested and detained under Operation Lone Star were not charged with a crime for weeks, and dozens were not given a lawyer for more than a month.”

Abbott has also spent upwards of $148 million on busing migrants to predominantly Democratic cities around the country, beginning in April 2022. Abbott claims this relieves Texas of "the burdens imposed by open-border advocates in other parts of the country."

Every year since 2021, Texas legislators have passed legislation that expands Texas’ control over the border and imposes strict border security.

In June 2023, Abbott signed an unprecedented six bill package on border security into law. Each of the Texas Senate bills grants officials increased authority along the border and the power to conduct arrests, searches and seizures at checkpoints in Texas without congressional approval.

Texas SB 1900 expands a September 2022 executive order and now “designates Mexican drug cartels and criminal organizations as foreign terrorist organizations,” due to their involvement in the increase of human and narcotic smuggling.

Abbott has since called on the Biden administration to take federal action similar to Texas’ legislation; a request the White House has not responded to nor made a motion to realize.

Increasing tensions: Texas and the federal government

Abbott traveled to the Rio Grande Valley last December to sign three more bills advancing Operation Lone Star, establishing crossing the border illegally as a state crime.

Senate Bill 4 designates entering Texas illegally from Mexico as a Class B misdemeanor, giving local judges the authority to order migrants out of the country and would send all migrants to Mexico's ports of entry. S.B. 4 could be enforced almost anywhere in Texas.

Another S.B. 4 (same name, different bill), effective this February, increased the minimum sentence for those smuggling individuals across the border or involvement in a narcotic stash house from two to 10 years.

Abbott justifies the extremity of this legislation by citing Biden’s immigration policies. “Operation Lone Star continues to fill the dangerous gaps created by the Biden administration’s refusal to secure the border,” Abbott said this January.

A federal judge in Austin, TX halted the law from taking effect in February while court proceedings between the federal government and Texas surrounding the constitutionality of S.B. 4 were ongoing.

U.S. District Judge David Ezra said in his ruling, “No matter how emphatic Texas’ criticism of the Federal Governments handling of immigration on the border may be to some, disagreement with the federal government’s immigration policy does not justify a violation of the Supremacy Clause."

Texas appealed the ruling with Abbott saying Texas “will not back down in our fight to protect our state — and our nation — from President Biden’s border crisis.”

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office appealed to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed Ezra’s February injunction. The Biden administration requested the Supreme Court temporarily block the law until March 18.

The law was halted from taking effect until the Supreme Court ruled the law could go into effect last month while legal disputes were ongoing. Just hours after this SCOTUS decision was made, the 5th Circuit scheduled a hearing and has blocked the law from being enforced.

Immigration rights organizations and the Biden administration remain engaged in a lawsuit against Texas over claims that S.B. 4 violates federal immigration laws by giving Texas law enforcement the ability to jail, detain and deport immigrants.

How does Eagle Pass come into play?

Shelby Park is at the forefront of the battle between Texas and the Biden administration. The 50-acre city park has seen large waves of migrant arrivals, reaching a record high in December 2023.

Abbott and other Texas officials say they will not allow U.S. Border Patrol agents to enter the park, a public area Abbott took over earlier this year. The Texas governor says state law enforcement will deter illegal migration by itself since the federal government is not doing enough.

Abbott says Texas has a right to protect its borders and has gained the support of 25 Republican governors. "Because the Biden administration has abdicated its constitutional compact duties to the states, Texas has every legal justification to protect the sovereignty of our states and our nation,” a letter signed by the governors said.

The Biden administration says Texas is preventing Border Patrol from properly processing asylum-seekers and patrolling the Rio Grande. While the Supreme Court has given them permission to cut the concertina wire Texas placed, the wire in Shelby Park remains untouched.