The Supreme Court on Monday granted the Biden administration’s request to vacate a lower court decision surrounding Texas’s placement of razor wire along the southern border, clearing the way for Border Patrol officials to remove physical blockades from the border.
In a 5-4 ruling, the justices responded to a Jan. 2 request by the Justice Department to intervene in the dispute after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in December stopped the federal government from cutting wire set up by Texas to deter immigrants from illegally crossing the border. Though the justices did not elaborate on the decision, it means that the government can begin cutting away the wire fences.
The decision on Monday isn’t the final word on the contentious dispute, which has hit a fever pitch in recent weeks as Texas and the federal government stand at odds over how to mitigate the immigration crisis that has seen record levels of illegal immigrants over the border since President Joe Biden took office.
State Attorney General Ken Paxton (R-TX) argued in a Jan. 9 filing that the Supreme Court’s intervention was unnecessary at the moment because the 5th Circuit had already expedited oral arguments over the dispute for early next month.
The state argues that the federal government does not have the right to destroy Texas’s property and claims “eyewitness observers” reported Border Patrol agents “facilitat[ing] the surge of migrants” into Eagle Pass, Texas.
Border Patrol alleges the barriers block its agents from carrying out arrests on immigrants who enter the country illegally and claims the wire only obstructs efforts to administer aid in emergency situations, saying that the wire has also contributed to injuries among immigrants.
The dispute surrounds miles of concertina wire and shipping containers that were spread across Texas’s border with Mexico in an effort to deter thousands of illegal border crossings. Texas has spent $9 billion on its border security program, which is called “Operation Lone Star.” Up to 5,000 illegal immigrants have crossed the border near Eagle Pass each day in recent weeks, causing strain on the 28,000-person town’s medical facilities.
The Department of Homeland Security accused Texas of refusing access to the border on Jan. 12 when a group of migrants attempted to cross the border and three individuals drowned. The Texas Military Department responded that the claims they had blocked access to federal agents were “wholly inaccurate.”
On Dec. 5, the 5th Circuit halted a lower court order that gave Border Patrol agents legal cover to continue cutting the wire fences that Texas installed along the border. The judges there included an exception that allowed agents to cut the barrier in the event of a medical emergency.
The 5th Circuit’s injunction came after a district court judge’s decision siding with Texas in October, finding the barriers prevent illegal crossings that impose costs on the state. However, that court denied the state’s request to block Border Patrol agents preliminarily from access to the international border or disturbing the barrier while the litigation continued.