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Tensions at the border grow as the number of migrant apprehensions drops significantly

Migrants walk Monday in southern Mexico, early Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, during their journey toward the US border.
Edgar H. Clemente/AP
Migrants walk Monday in southern Mexico, early Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, during their journey toward the US border.

Originally Published: 12 JAN 24 09:20 ET

Updated: 12 JAN 24 10:37 ET

By Rosa Flores, Sara Weisfeldt and Jay Croft, CNN

Houston (CNN) — A migrant surge continues to overwhelm authorities at the US-Mexico border — and in US cities where many asylum-seekers are being sent.

Here are the latest developments:

The number of migrant encounters in Eagle Pass, Texas – very recently the epicenter of the migrant crisis – has dropped significantly, from thousands of apprehensions daily a few weeks ago to about 500 a day this week, city officials said.

But tensions remain high between state and federal officials, with Texas this week blocking the US Border Patrol from accessing miles of the US-Mexico line and its Republican governor saying his state is doing everything short of shooting new arrivals to stem the migration flow.

The Biden administration told the US Supreme Court early Friday that new barriers recently erected by the state “reinforce” the federal government’s need for the high court to quickly intervene in the matter.

Overall migrant encounters on the US southern border topped 10,000 per day in mid-December, then – following high-level talks between Mexico and the US in Mexico City – dropped to about 3,000 per day in January.

The Department of Homeland Security has attributed the drop to a few things:

- Enhanced enforcement actions by Mexico, including on trains and buses;

- Mexico moving migrants along the country’s northern border to the southern border;

- Mexico reinstating deportations of Venezuelans.

Mexico has confirmed devoting resources but hasn’t provided details.

Still, human smugglers could capitalize on misinformation and push migrants to cross into the United States illegally in big groups at certain areas. And unexplained ebbs and flows are always present in migration.

Texas doubles down on Border Patrol block

Even as migrant encounters along Mexico’s border with Texas have dropped, the Texas Military Department has taken the extraordinary step of blocking a federal law enforcement agency from accessing miles of the US-Mexico border, as well as blocking “organizations that perpetuate illegal immigrant crossings.”

“The current posture is to prepare for future illegal immigrant surges and to restrict access to organizations that perpetuate illegal immigrant crossings in (a city) park (at the Rio Grande) and greater Eagle Pass area,” the Texas Military Department told CNN in a statement.

Texas authorities late Wednesday started denying US Border Patrol from accessing several miles of the border, according to a law enforcement source familiar with operations. State authorities around that time also started erecting razor wire, fencing and gates to shut off access to Shelby Park, an adjoining golf course and an area under the port of entry bridge that federal agents use as a waiting area for migrants.

Abbott’s press office has not answered CNN’s questions about the state’s actions. “(W)e are making clear that Texas will be a tough place to cross,” he said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“This is just mind-blowing,” a former US Department of Homeland Security official told CNN about blocking Border Patrol access.

Abbott’s move caught Homeland Security officials by surprise.

“This again shows Gov. Abbott’s unwillingness to coordinate,” an agency official told CNN, stressing the Texas governor has repeatedly taken actions without coordinating with the federal government.

The Justice Department last week asked the nation’s highest court to step in on an emergency basis to wipe away a lower court order directing Border Patrol agents to stop removing concertina wire put in place by Texas while the state’s legal challenge to the practice plays out.

The filing overnight into Friday said the new barriers erected by Texas this week included not only more concertina wire along a part of the Rio Grande but also “new fencing, located further inland than the original concertina wire,” gates and military Humvees, among other things. Photographs of the new barriers were included in the filing.

Texas stops short of shooting migrants, governor says

Indeed, Texas is taking every action possible to address the migrant situation – short of shooting people – Abbott said.

“We are deploying every tool and strategy that we possibly can. The only thing that we’re not doing is we’re not shooting people who come across the border, because of course the Biden administration would charge us with murder,” he told conservative commentator and radio host Dana Loesch in an interview aired January 5. The comments drew attention after they were posted on social media Thursday by the progressive news outlet Heartland Signal.

CNN has reached out to Abbott’s office for further comment.

Texas’ Democratic Party chairperson said Abbott’s comment demonstrates a lack of “morality or humanity.”

“This bloodthirsty approach to governance is dangerous not only for migrants and Texans of color – but for our entire state,” Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “Texas Republicans’ dehumanization of these communities will continue until their authoritarian policies prevail – or apparently, until they catch a murder charge.”

Abbott’s comment could pose danger at the border, ACLU of Texas senior staff attorney David Donatti said in a statement.

2021 declaration cited in park takeover

Texas this week also used a May 2021 disaster declaration renewed by Abbott in December to take over Eagle Pass’ Shelby Park, Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze told CNN on Thursday. Eze did not respond to CNN’s questions about the timing of the park takeover, given migrant encounters have recently plummeted.

Shelby Park has been used by Abbott’s border security initiative, known as Operation Lone Star, to stage resources and equipment, including controversial border buoys and razor wire.

A temporary fence went up at the entrance of the park that was guarded by military vehicles, a video Eagle Pass Mayor Rolando Salinas posted on Facebook late Wednesday shows.

The state “made it clear that they will be compensating the city” for costs associated with the park takeover, Salinas said in a news conference Thursday. “We’re not saying, ‘OK, good,’ but at least we’re getting money. It’s still not acceptable,” he said.

Eagle Pass officials were surprised when state authorities took over the park, Salinas said, adding the timing of the emergency declaration doesn’t make sense because migrant encounters in Eagle Pass have plummeted.

“This is something that the city didn’t sign up for,” Salinas said in the video. “This is not the city of Eagle Pass denying people access to the park.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez, Ashley Killough, Ed Lavandera and Devan Cole contributed to this report.

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Article Topic Follows: On the Border

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