A Texas National Guard soldier stands at a barbed-wire barrier and blocks a group of migrants from crossing into the U.S. between legal ports of entry near El Paso, Texas.

A Texas National Guard soldier stands at a barbed-wire barrier and blocks a group of migrants from crossing into the U.S. between legal ports of entry near El Paso, Texas. (Texas Military Department)

AUSTIN, Texas – An appeals court on Wednesday ordered federal agents to stop cutting barbed-wire barriers that deter migrants from crossing into Texas from Mexico.

Texas National Guard troops began placing the barriers near the border with Mexico more than two years ago to prevent illegal entry in the U.S. But federal Customs and Border Protection agents began cutting the wire blockades to collect and detain migrants who were now on U.S. soil.

The conflict has led to a legal back and forth that began in October when Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a federal lawsuit to stop federal agents from cutting the barriers. He argued the Border Patrol agents are destroying and damaging the state’s property when they do this, and they have begun doing it more often.

Judge Alia Moses of the Del Rio Division of the Western District of Texas temporarily ordered federal agents in October to stop cutting the barriers in a 29-mile stretch of border in Eagle Pass while she reviewed the case.

Moses lifted the order a month later and Texas appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which on Wednesday reversed her decision while the issue is litigated.

“I’m very pleased the appellate court has forbidden federal agents sent by [President Joe Biden’s] administration from destroying our concertina wire fences,” Paxton said. “Given the ongoing disaster at the southern border due to the federal government’s intentional actions, more than ever it is necessary to take every step we can to hold the line.”

Customs and Border Protection has said it has a responsibility under federal law to take into custody people who have crossed onto U.S. soil without authorization for processing, and to act when conditions put migrants or agents at risk. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the latest court ruling.

The order does allow Border Patrol to cut the barriers to reach migrants in medical distress, according to court documents.

The Texas Military Department said troops working on Operation Lone Star, a state-sponsored mission to deter illegal activity at the border, have installed nearly 106 miles of coiled barbed wire to curb the flow of migrants crossing into the U.S. The wire is typically placed within the boundary of the U.S., and on property owned by the state, local governments or private citizens who have granted permission for the Guard to access their property.

Texas Guard members recently began installing “thousands of anti-climb barrier panels,” Maj. Gen. Thomas Suelzer, Texas National Guard commander, said Monday during a news conference about border security. The Guard also has new surveillance vehicles, he said.

The Texas troops work separately from a federal deployment of National Guard members at the border to support Customs and Border Protection.

The lawsuit is just one front in which the Republican-led state is fighting with the Biden administration’s approach to border security. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday signed a new law that gives police the power to arrest those thought to have crossed illegally into the state and judges the power to order them out of the country. The law is set to take effect in March.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Civil Rights Project have already filed a federal lawsuit challenging the new law. The organizations argue it will lead to racial profiling and it violates a 2010 Supreme Court decision that places immigration enforcement with the federal government, not the states.

Twitter: @Rose_Lori

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Rose L. Thayer is based in Austin, Texas, and she has been covering the western region of the continental U.S. for Stars and Stripes since 2018. Before that she was a reporter for Killeen Daily Herald and a freelance journalist for publications including The Alcalde, Texas Highways and the Austin American-Statesman. She is the spouse of an Army veteran and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism. Her awards include a 2021 Society of Professional Journalists Washington Dateline Award and an Honorable Mention from the Military Reporters and Editors Association for her coverage of crime at Fort Hood.

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