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Texas National Guard takes over city park, blocks federal agents from operating there


Eagle Pass, Texas, population 28,000, along the U.S.-Mexico border has become the center of a political struggle over who controls the southern border. Republican Governor Greg Abbott contends the authority of the Texas state government supersedes federal control. Governor Abbott has locked out the U.S. Border Patrol from a 50-acre city park on the banks of the Rio Grande. That park has become a magnet for groups that oppose President Biden's handling of immigration. Texas Public Radio's David Martin Davies joins us now from Eagle Pass. David, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: What does Eagle Pass look like now?

DAVIES: Well, it's a border town 150 miles southwest of San Antonio, overwhelmingly Mexican American. Shelby Park is where the community gathered for festivals and soccer and softball. But now, that park is off limits to the public. It's been militarized. There are members of the Texas National Guard patrolling, and armored vehicles there. They're there because the park fronts about 2 1/2 miles of the Rio Grande. Governor Abbott has sealed the park off from the rest of the city with razor wire. And on the river side, he's made a wall of steel cargo containers.

The park has become a command center for the state's Operation Lone Star, a multibillion-dollar anti-migration effort. The entrance of the park has now a patrol of well-armed members of the Texas National Guard, and they're keeping the U.S. Border Patrol out of the park. Except they can still use the boat ramp that's in the park. But the Border Patrol agents are prevented from operating inside the park, so asylum-seeking migrants can't surrender to them right there.

SIMON: David, what do some of the residents of Eagle Pass with whom you've been able to speak, think about this dispute and the sudden attention on their community?

DAVIES: Well, they're not happy about it for a number of reasons. I've heard some say this attention and anti-migrant rhetoric makes them feel very unsafe, and it's attracting a lot of anti-Biden protesters. Jesse Fuentes lost his river outfitting business to the park takeover. He says Abbott has turned Shelby Park into a fort.

JESSE FUENTES: They've basically taken over our property. This is our community. That's our park. And look. Look at that. I see tents. I see they're fortifying - there's tons of panels out there.

DAVIES: The fence panels that he's referring to are for adding more razor wire. The U.S. Supreme Court last week cleared the way for federal agents to be able to cut through the state's razor wire. Governor Abbott, though, has so far signaled that he will defy that court ruling. And Fuentes told me the community wants their park back. This is a place families go for special events.

SIMON: David, this dispute has been called a standoff between the Biden administration in the state of Texas. Is it - from what you've been able to see?

DAVIES: Well, there's been a lot of over-the-top language used to describe what's going on. And the Border Patrol still has access to everywhere else on the Texas border, so it's not keeping them from protecting the southern border. And that's important because the migrants are not crossing here at Shelby Park in the large numbers that they were before the new year.

But this is not a civil war or a battle. It's a dispute that's working its way through the courts, and that's happening now - is largely symbolic and political. There are people on the right who want the TV cameras pointed at the border, and this does just that. But that's not stopping the claim that this is a big showdown over the border. And that's why this big convoy of pro-Trump anti-illegal immigration activists are here this weekend.

SIMON: Well, what do you know about the convoy who's taking part? What are their objectives?

DAVIES: Well, the organizers claim there are thousands of them here. I haven't seen that. Maybe there's hundreds. These are militia types, Christian nationalists, a mix of conspiracy theorists and election deniers. It's not clear what they're trying to achieve other than draw attention to themselves. And tomorrow, Governor Greg Abbott is having an event with 14 other Republican governors in Shelby Park. They claim Biden is deliberately not securing the border, and that gives them the constitutional authority to take matters into their own hands.

SIMON: Texas Public Radio's David Martin Davies in Eagle Pass, Texas. David, thanks so much.

DAVIES: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
David Martin Davies
David Martin Davies is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience covering Texas, the border and Mexico.