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The standoff at the U.S.-Mexico border

An aerial view of the area as migrants walking along razor wire after crossing the Rio Grande into the United States on January 28, 2024 in Eagle Pass, Texas. (Photo by Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu via Getty Images)
An aerial view of the area as migrants walking along razor wire after crossing the Rio Grande into the United States on January 28, 2024 in Eagle Pass, Texas. (Photo by Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu via Getty Images)

The federal government has jurisdiction over immigration matters.

In Eagle Pass, the state of Texas has taken over.

But what Texas is doing is illegal and could lead to a constitutional crisis.

Today, On Point: The standoff at the U.S.-Mexico border.


Rep. Eddie Morales, represents House District 74 in the Texas state legislature. His district covers many cities on the U.S.-Mexico border, including Del Rio and Eagle Pass.

Stephen Vladeck, Charles Alan Wright chair in federal courts at the University of Texas School of Law. Author of “The Shadow Docket: How the Supreme Court Uses Stealth Rulings to Amass Power and Undermine the Republic.”

Also Featured

Carlos Herrera, state director for the Eagle Pass Board of Realtors.


Part I

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: In Eagle Pass, Texas, a tense political standoff continues between Texas Governor Greg Abbott and President Joe Biden. The federal government has jurisdiction over immigration matters in this country, especially at the border. But in Eagle Pass, it’s the state that’s taken over.

CARLOS HERRERA: Compared to what we’re used to seeing, baseball games, soccer games. We are met with National Guardsmen, shipping containers, razor wire, and I believe today they’re adding even more razor wire.

CHAKRABARTI: That’s Eagle Pass Resident Carlos Herrera. Earlier this month, Texas Republican governor Greg Abbott deployed Texas National Guardsmen and State Troopers to Shelby Park in Eagle Pass.

They took over the park, which had been used by federal border patrol agents to process thousands of migrants crossing the border at Eagle Pass every day. But now the Texas law enforcement officers refuse access to U.S. Border Patrol agents. This is in defiance of federal jurisdiction, but Governor Abbott argues Texas is asserting its right to defend itself against what he says is quote, “An invasion of migrants.”

Here’s Abbott on Fox News last week.

GREG ABBOTT: Authors of the Constitution knew there would be times when the federal government would not live up to his duty, and so they empowered states in Article I, Section 10, the right of self-defense and what Texas is asserting is our Article I, Section 10 right of Self-Defense.

Because the president of the United States is not fulfilling his duty to enforce the laws passed by Congress that deny illegal entry into the United States.

CHAKRABARTI: The Department of Homeland Security says 302,000 migrants crossed the U.S. Southern border in December, a monthly record. There is a crisis going on there. President Joe Biden claims he would shut down the border, but that congressional inaction is preventing him from doing it.

JOE BIDEN: We would finally provide the funding I requested early on and again in October to secure our borders. It includes an additional 1,300 border patrols. We need more agents on the border. 375 immigration judges is a judge whether or not someone can come or not come. And be fair about it. 1,600 asylum officers and over 100 cutting edge inspection machines.

Tell, detect and stop fentanyl coming outside our Southwest border. It’ll also give me, as president, the emergency authority to shut down the border until it could get back under control. If that bill were the law today, I’d shut down the border right now and fix it quickly.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, house Speaker Mike Johnson recently killed the ‘it’ that President Biden was talking about, a bipartisan immigration deal being hashed out now in the Senate.

Now, Donald Trump and right-wing Republicans in the house object to the agreement. And yesterday, Johnson affirmed that the Senate border security proposal is quote absolutely dead, even though work continues in the Senate to hash out that bipartisan deal. So the country is at the confluence right now of three major issues.

First, what exactly is happening at the border near Eagle Pass? What is the shape and reality of the crisis there? Thousands of migrants continue to try to cross every day. So what is that like for the city of Eagle Pass and the residents who live there? Second, can the state of Texas legally seize jurisdiction away of the border from the federal government?

Or could the state of Texas be heading towards causing a constitutional crisis? And third, the politics, of course. Why isn’t President Biden trying to do more? Does he have options that do not require congressional appropriation? Even some Democrats say there are such options, though they may be limited.

So how much can a small group of far-right house members and Donald Trump, a man not even in office right now, undermine any border reforms in this election year while the entire country pays the price? So joining me now is Representative Eddie Morales. He represents Texas House District 74 in the state legislature.

That district covers more than half of the cities on the U.S.-Mexico border in the Del Rio sector. Of course, it includes Eagle Pass, and he joins us now from Eagle Pass, Texas. Representative Morales, thank you so much for joining us. Welcome.

REP. EDDIE MORALES: Thank you, Meghna, for having us.

CHAKRABARTI: So first give us a clear picture of what’s happening, let’s say right now, in the past few days, in terms of the numbers of migrants who are trying to cross into Eagle Pass.

What’s it like?

MORALES: So we live under a new reality. The numbers have drastically dropped from what was taking place in early December, when we were having a little over 10,000 people, migrants crossing per day. We’re now at 1,000 to 2,000, and while those numbers may be drastically low, I think there’s a numbing effect that we have because those are still numbers that are unsustainable.

CHAKRABARTI: Can you tell me why they’re unsustainable?

MORALES: When you add them up day by day it just takes the resources away from border patrol. DPS still has to be out here. There’s a lot of, if you live in a subdivision or in a residence or in a ranch close to the riverbanks, you still have to deal with this on a regular basis.

I get calls from a ton of constituents and text messages and photographs also of the damages caused to their land. It’s clear that this is not sustainable, and I signed up for Operation Lone Star, the last legislative cycle, as well as this cycle, to fully fund border security. Because those were the needs of our communities, especially the ones that I represent, representing nine out of the 14 counties that share a border with Mexico.

So I know that this was important to them to get a lot of these reimbursement costs. But I think that we need to think bigger and not just put a band-aid on this and actually fix the issue. And Congress has just failed this for over 30 plus years.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. We’re going to talk more about that later.

But can you tell me more, Representative Morales, about what the crisis right now, and actually also as you mentioned over the past several months, what impact has it had on the city of Eagle Pass? Has it had a negative impact on, for example, the economy there?

MORALES: Definitely … so your viewers, your listeners have to understand also that this has a domino effect.

The migrants crossing through the river are getting the asylum processing, will get asylum. They’ll make a request for asylum. They’ll get processed under that, and then they’ll be able to stay here. If you try to use a dry land port, like an international bridge, they will stop you from even getting to the customs office or building, and there’s only a minimum number.

So most of them are crossing through the river, exposing themselves, as well as our law enforcement officers, that are patrolling the river. So I think that we need to understand that. And then from that it has a rippling effect. Because then Governor Abbott, what he will do to send a message to Mexico and to the state of Coahuila, which is right across Eagle Pass.

And that’s where our sister city of Piedras Negras sits. They’ll send a message by then Governor Abbott asking for 100% commercial inspections, and what that does then is what used to take a commercial vehicle to cross the International Bridge. Five to 15 minutes at most, now that’ll take hours.

And so they’re just idling there because of these 100% commercial inspections. And whatever they were charging is just being wasted, for example, in gas. And it’s doing absolutely nothing to actually curb the migrant search that’s taking place. It’s more of a economic deterrent that the governor is imposing on the state of Coahuila to send a message that you need to do more.

But in the process, our communities at the local, regional, and statewide, it has a domino effect. We were losing, I think last year during one of the legislative session, he imposed this restriction also, and a famous economist did some numbers and it’s online. And I think that we lost close to $5 billion in those four or five days.

You can just imagine the rippling and domino effect that an action like that takes. And this is supposed to be the Republican party, right? Which is supposed to be pro-business, pro-small business, pro-limited government, pro-trade. And it’s actually the antithesis of that.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. So by the way, I should note that you’re a Democrat. You call yourself a conservative Democrat. And so we’re going to come back in a little bit to talk about why you supported operation Lone Star from Governor Abbott. We’ll do that in just a few minutes. But Representative Morales, you made a very important point just there. In that the border, a fully functioning border, exists not just to deal with migration or immigration of human beings, but also to facilitate the economy of border communities.

And in fact the rest of the country, right? Because so much economic activity that benefits the United States happens cross-border. So can you just tell me a little bit more, because this is the kind of on-the-ground detail that it’s hard to get when you just read exclusively the national media for example.

I understand that you’re a business owner as well and a lot of your employees may live in Mexico. And need to cross every day in order to work in your business, but that’s become exceedingly difficult.

MORALES: Yeah. And it’s not just only us. Remember in Del Rio about two years ago, there we had an influx of migrants that went from 1,000 that were under the international bridge there to 15,000 almost overnight.

And so we, at that point, it was the first time that we had actually seen a migrant search of that size. And I remember getting calls from HEB, from McDonald’s, from grocery stores there in Del Rio that were dependent on their employees actually living across in Mexico and couldn’t cross because they had closed down the bridges at that point.

And so were experiencing the same issues here most recently. I think we have approximately 15 employees in our tortilla factory that’s been in our family for the last 36 years. We’re extremely proud of that. And then some of our employees actually choose to live in Mexico and have their families over there because it’s just a lot less inexpensive.

And so what you end up seeing or hearing from them is that it’s taking, at times, it’s taking four or five hours. We’d tell ’em, “Don’t come, don’t, we don’t want you to wait in line for four or five hours just to cross.” And especially when you have hours of operation, like at 6:00 a.m. in the morning, can you imagine somebody having to sit there for hours trying to get across or the bridge being closed?

Another, for example, we were having in December because of the super high number of migrant search that took place. They also, the federal government decided to also stop the rail bridge crossings. And we have Union Pacific who has now received the most influx here through this trade. And they were losing close to $200 million a day, them alone, and it was having a rippling effect of $1 billion a day.

CHAKRABARTI: Wow. And none of these actions seem to have made any meaningful impact on the migrant crisis itself. That’s drawing all the political attention to Eagle Pass.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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