Texas AG sues federal government over cut concertina wire

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TEXAS, USA — This story was first published on The Texas Tribune, and can be viewed here.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the Biden administration on Tuesday, claiming that the Border Patrol illegally destroyed state property when its agents cut through concertina wire on the banks of the Rio Grande to “assist” migrants to “illegally cross” the border.

Within the past three years, the Texas Military Department has spent $11 million to place 70,000 rolls of concertina wire in different parts of the Texas-Mexico border, most notably in Eagle Pass, where migrants have been seriously injured trying to get through the wire.

The concertina wire is part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s efforts to stem illegal immigration at the 1,200-mile border.

According to the lawsuit, filed in the Western District of Texas, Border Patrol agents “not only cut Texas’ concertina wire, but also attach ropes or cables from the back of pickup trucks to ease” migrants’ ability to get onto the U.S. side of the river.

Since Sept. 20, immigration agents have “seized and damaged” the state-deployed concertina wire “more than 20 times,” the lawsuit says. None of the wire was located on federal land and was instead on land owned by border cities or private landowners, the lawsuit claims.

“By cutting Texas’s concertina wire, the federal government has not only illegally destroyed property owned by the State of Texas; it has also disrupted the State’s border deterrence efforts, leaving gaps in Texas’s border barriers and damaging Texas’s ability to effectively deter illegal entry into Texas,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement.

The lawsuit names the heads of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Border Patrol as defendants. Paxton’s office is asking a federal judge to rule that immigration agents cutting the wire is illegal and award damages to the state.

The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Border Patrol, said in an email that it doesn’t respond to pending litigation.

“Generally speaking, 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,” a spokesperson for the department said.

Paxton’s office has repeatedly sued the Biden administration, targeting the president’s immigration policies. The attorney general’s office has been able to reverse some of the Biden administration’s policies in lower courts, but in the cases that have gone before the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices have ruled in the administration’s favor.

For example, a Texas lawsuit led to a June 2022 Supreme Court ruling that the Biden administration had the right to end a Trump-era immigration policy known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, which forced asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico as their cases make their way through U.S. immigration courts. A year later, the Supreme Court also ruled that Texas lacked legal standing to challenge the Biden administration’s priorities on who should be deported.

Federal courts have previously ruled that the federal government has sole jurisdiction over immigration matters.

Earlier this year in Eagle Pass, a state trooper claimed the state’s concertina wire had injured people, including a woman who had a miscarriage while entangled in the wire. In an email message to a superior that was later leaked to reporters, the trooper also said that a 4-year-old girl who attempted to cross the wire “was pressed back by Texas Guard soldiers due to the orders given to them.” The temperature “was well over 100 degrees” and the girl passed out before receiving medical treatment, the email said.

The trooper’s claims are under investigation.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

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