Jan 23, 2024 - World

Border win for Biden in bigger battle over federal authority

migrants are shown from behind walking among razor wire near the US/MEXICO border

Migrants try to reach the U.S. border near Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on Jan. 17. Photo: Christian Torres/Anadolu via Getty Images

The Supreme Court's decision on Monday allowing the removal of razor wire at the Texas border is one win for the Biden administration in a bigger battle over federal authority in the state.

The big picture: In Texas, immigration is the arena of fights between the state and the federal government that could prompt other states to adopt similar legal strategies, leading to long and costly lawsuits.

  • The federal government and states across the country are in power struggles over voting rights and health and environmental regulations.
  • The Texas razor wire case has "much larger implications than just on immigration," says Aron Thorn, a senior attorney at the ​Texas Civil Rights Project who works on border issues.

Catch up fast: Texas under Republican Gov. Greg Abbott last year installed miles of barriers using barbed wire and buoys along the Rio Grande in response to record numbers of migrants arriving at the border.

  • This month, the Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to grant the federal government an emergency motion allowing it to remove the wire.
  • Last week, federal attorneys cited the drowning deaths of a woman and two children in the Rio Grande as an example of how border agents, who were not allowed past a fence installed by Texas, weren't able to do their jobs and respond to the incident.
  • Texas attorneys in a court filing said the agents never asked to cross the fence and that Mexican authorities responded to the drownings.
  • A divided court yesterday granted the federal motion. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito Jr., Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh dissented.

What they're saying: Immigration enforcement is "a perfect vehicle" for challenging federal authority because it's such a controversial issue, Thorn tells Axios Latino.

  • "They see Texas taking up this mantle of, like, I'm gonna bully the federal government into acting the way I want them to act on immigration."
  • Thorn says that mentality can bleed into other issues such as environmental regulation and climate change when states don't agree with federal actions.

Between the lines: The state's rapidly changing demographics are in part what's driving actions to stem migration through Texas, says Marisa Limón Garza, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso.

  • Hispanics now make up the largest share of the population in Texas.
  • Limón Garza's organization is one of several that sued the Texas government last month over a new law that will allow local authorities to arrest and deport unauthorized immigrants.
  • "Texas is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-language democracy that is the future of the United States. And I believe that that is why we are seeing such an attack on so many different levels of freedoms in an attempt to avoid that reality," Limón Garza says.
  • The plaintiffs, along with the U.S. Department of Justice, which also filed a lawsuit, say the law is unconstitutional because the federal government has authority over immigration. The law is scheduled to take effect on March 5.

The other side: Asked for comment on the court ruling, a spokesperson for Abbott's office pointed Axios to his post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

  • "This is not over. Texas' razor wire is an effective deterrent to the illegal crossings Biden encourages," Abbott wrote.
  • "I will continue to defend Texas' constitutional authority to secure the border and prevent the Biden Admin from destroying our property."

What to watch: In a separate lawsuit, the Biden administration is fighting to remove buoys from the Rio Grande meant to keep migrants out of Texas. A full panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals will hear the case later this year.

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