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Justices Allow Removal of Texas’ Razor Wire on US-Mexico Border

The high court ruled 5-4 in a victory for the administration, which argued federal agents would be unable to enforce U.S. immigration laws.

By Susan Frederick  |  January 23, 2024

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows U.S. border agents to remove razor wire installed by the state of Texas to stem the flow of illegal border crossings.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star” assigned Texas law enforcement personnel to help federal border control agents manage the 1,200-mile border. Part of this effort involved installing razor wire on private property.

In the case of DHS v. Texas, Texas sought to stop Customs and Border Protection agents from cutting and removing portions of the razor wire. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily barred CBP agents from cutting or moving the wire, except in cases of medical emergencies. The Department of Homeland Security appealed. Two weeks after the initial appeal, Texas placed new razor wire barriers near Eagle Pass, blocking a CBP boat ramp and staging area where the department evaluates and inspects apprehended migrants.

On Jan. 22, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision and permitted CBP agents to cut or move the wire as needed to perform their duties.

Texas argued that the CBP agents do not have the authority to destroy and tamper with state-owned property. The state alleged that CBP agents and DHS enable rather than prohibit migrants from illegally entering the U.S. by cutting and lifting the wire and allowing migrants to pass through unimpeded. It further argued that it is in the public interest to “deter unlawful agency action and respect property rights.”

DHS countered that the injunction barred CBP agents from doing their jobs of apprehending, inspecting and processing migrants who have illegally crossed the border pursuant to the federal Immigration and Nationality Act. It argued that CBP agents cut or remove wire to apprehend illegal migrants who are then sent to another location for processing. If the Supreme Court upheld the appeals court injunction, federal CBP agents would be unable to enforce U.S. immigration laws and “guard against the risk of injury and death, matters for which the federal government, not Texas, is held politically accountable.”

In an unsigned order, the Supreme Court vacated the injunction 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett joining Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson for the majority. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh would have kept the injunction in place.

Susan Frederick is NCSL’s senior federal affairs counsel.

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