Skip to content

Supreme Court clears way for US to remove Texas border barrier

The 5-4 order allows Border Patrol agents to cut wire the state placed near the Rio Grande

The Supreme Court building in Washington.
The Supreme Court building in Washington. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A divided Supreme Court on Monday temporarily allowed the Biden administration to remove a wire barrier Texas placed at the U.S.-Mexico border, amid a dispute over Border Patrol’s access to Eagle Pass.

The brief 5-4 order vacated a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit that had prevented Border Patrol agents from cutting the concertina wire along the Rio Grande, part of a legal fight between Texas and the federal government over immigration enforcement in that area.

The order comes a week after the Biden administration claimed the dispute kept Border Patrol officials from intervening when several migrants died trying to cross the Rio Grande.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the three justices on the liberal wing of the court to issue Monday’s order, which did not explain the reasoning for the vote.

Biden administration officials first requested the justices intervene in the case earlier this month, after a 5th Circuit panel ruled that Border Patrol officials could only cut the wire in medical emergencies.

The government said that ruling ran counter to federal law, which gives Border Patrol agents authority to enter any private lands within 25 miles of an international border to “interrogate” and “arrest” anyone who crosses the border illegally. To carry out those duties, federal agents can access land along the Rio Grande, the application said.

Additionally, the Biden administration argued the emergency exemption was basically useless because it would take too long to cut through the wire to assist anyone in the river. The Justice Department said that as the Biden administration’s application was pending, Texas state officials placed more wire and blocked access to Shelby Park by the Rio Grande.

The state subsequently blocked Border Patrol access to the park on Jan. 12, when agents sought access to the park’s boat launch to assist several migrants in the river, the DOJ said. The migrants ultimately drowned, the DOJ said.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had urged the justices not to intervene in the dispute, arguing that the Biden administration ignored state law to destroy state property to allow migrants to pass into the country.

“Texas’s fencing deters illegal entries and activities, including human trafficking, drug running, and weapons smuggling,” the state response said.

The case that led to the Supreme Court order started when Texas sued the Biden administration earlier this year, alleging Border Patrol agents had violated state law when they cut the razor wire to assist migrants in crossing the border.

After entering a brief injunction against the Biden administration, Judge Alia Moses of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ruled in favor of the Biden administration in November. Texas appealed the decision to the 5th Circuit.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had state officials install wire and buoys in the Rio Grande as part of Operation Lone Star, a state-based effort that officials claim is meant to counter illegal immigration and drug trafficking.

The order in Monday’s case is separate from another suit brought by the DOJ alleging the river buoys violate federal law, which is still pending.

Recent Stories

Piecemeal supplemental spending plan emerges in House

White House issues worker protections for pregnancy termination

Senate leaders seek quick action on key surveillance authority

Officials search for offshore wind radar interference fix

McCarthy gavel investigation ends without a bang

Rep. Tom Cole seeks to limit earmark-driven political headaches