The standoff at the U.S.-Mexico border

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An aerial view of the area as migrants walking along razor wire after crossing the Rio Grande into the United States on January 28, 2024 in Eagle Pass, Texas. (Photo by Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu via Getty Images)
An aerial view of the area as migrants walking along razor wire after crossing the Rio Grande into the United States on January 28, 2024 in Eagle Pass, Texas. (Photo by Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Editor's note: On Point reached out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the White House, Governor Greg Abbott’s office, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas Military Department, and the Texas Attorney General’s Office. All of them either declined our request for an interview or did not respond.

The federal government has jurisdiction over immigration matters.

In Eagle Pass, the state of Texas has taken over.

But what Texas is doing is illegal and could lead to a constitutional crisis.

Today, On Point: The standoff at the U.S.-Mexico border.


Rep. Eddie Morales, represents House District 74 in the Texas state legislature. His district covers many cities on the U.S.-Mexico border, including Del Rio and Eagle Pass.

Stephen Vladeck, Charles Alan Wright chair in federal courts at the University of Texas School of Law. Author of “The Shadow Docket: How the Supreme Court Uses Stealth Rulings to Amass Power and Undermine the Republic."

Also Featured

Carlos Herrera, state director for the Eagle Pass Board of Realtors.


Part I

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: In Eagle Pass, Texas, a tense political standoff continues between Texas Governor Greg Abbott and President Joe Biden. The federal government has jurisdiction over immigration matters in this country, especially at the border. But in Eagle Pass, it's the state that's taken over.

CARLOS HERRERA: Compared to what we're used to seeing, baseball games, soccer games. We are met with National Guardsmen, shipping containers, razor wire, and I believe today they're adding even more razor wire.

CHAKRABARTI: That's Eagle Pass Resident Carlos Herrera. Earlier this month, Texas Republican governor Greg Abbott deployed Texas National Guardsmen and State Troopers to Shelby Park in Eagle Pass.

They took over the park, which had been used by federal border patrol agents to process thousands of migrants crossing the border at Eagle Pass every day. But now the Texas law enforcement officers refuse access to U.S. Border Patrol agents. This is in defiance of federal jurisdiction, but Governor Abbott argues Texas is asserting its right to defend itself against what he says is quote, "An invasion of migrants."

Here's Abbott on Fox News last week.

GREG ABBOTT: Authors of the Constitution knew there would be times when the federal government would not live up to his duty, and so they empowered states in Article I, Section 10, the right of self-defense and what Texas is asserting is our Article I, Section 10 right of Self-Defense.

Because the president of the United States is not fulfilling his duty to enforce the laws passed by Congress that deny illegal entry into the United States.

CHAKRABARTI: The Department of Homeland Security says 302,000 migrants crossed the U.S. Southern border in December, a monthly record. There is a crisis going on there. President Joe Biden claims he would shut down the border, but that congressional inaction is preventing him from doing it.

JOE BIDEN: We would finally provide the funding I requested early on and again in October to secure our borders. It includes an additional 1,300 border patrols. We need more agents on the border. 375 immigration judges is a judge whether or not someone can come or not come. And be fair about it. 1,600 asylum officers and over 100 cutting edge inspection machines.

Tell, detect and stop fentanyl coming outside our Southwest border. It'll also give me, as president, the emergency authority to shut down the border until it could get back under control. If that bill were the law today, I'd shut down the border right now and fix it quickly.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, House Speaker Mike Johnson recently killed the 'it' that President Biden was talking about, a bipartisan immigration deal being hashed out now in the Senate.

Now, Donald Trump and right-wing Republicans in the House object to the agreement. And yesterday, Johnson affirmed that the Senate border security proposal is quote absolutely dead, even though work continues in the Senate to hash out that bipartisan deal. So the country is at the confluence right now of three major issues.

First, what exactly is happening at the border near Eagle Pass? What is the shape and reality of the crisis there? Thousands of migrants continue to try to cross every day. So what is that like for the city of Eagle Pass and the residents who live there? Second, can the state of Texas legally seize jurisdiction away of the border from the federal government?

Or could the state of Texas be heading towards causing a constitutional crisis? And third, the politics, of course. Why isn't President Biden trying to do more? Does he have options that do not require congressional appropriation? Even some Democrats say there are such options, though they may be limited.

So how much can a small group of far-right House members and Donald Trump, a man not even in office right now, undermine any border reforms in this election year while the entire country pays the price? So joining me now is Representative Eddie Morales. He represents Texas House District 74 in the state legislature.

That district covers more than half of the cities on the U.S.-Mexico border in the Del Rio sector. Of course, it includes Eagle Pass, and he joins us now from Eagle Pass, Texas. Representative Morales, thank you so much for joining us. Welcome.

REP. EDDIE MORALES: Thank you, Meghna, for having us.

CHAKRABARTI: So first give us a clear picture of what's happening, let's say right now, in the past few days, in terms of the numbers of migrants who are trying to cross into Eagle Pass.

What's it like?

MORALES: So we live under a new reality. The numbers have drastically dropped from what was taking place in early December, when we were having a little over 10,000 people, migrants crossing per day. We're now at 1,000 to 2,000, and while those numbers may be drastically low, I think there's a numbing effect that we have because those are still numbers that are unsustainable.

CHAKRABARTI: Can you tell me why they're unsustainable?

MORALES: When you add them up day by day it just takes the resources away from border patrol. DPS still has to be out here. There's a lot of, if you live in a subdivision or in a residence or in a ranch close to the riverbanks, you still have to deal with this on a regular basis.

I get calls from a ton of constituents and text messages and photographs also of the damages caused to their land. It's clear that this is not sustainable, and I signed up for Operation Lone Star, the last legislative cycle, as well as this cycle, to fully fund border security. Because those were the needs of our communities, especially the ones that I represent, representing nine out of the 14 counties that share a border with Mexico.

So I know that this was important to them to get a lot of these reimbursement costs. But I think that we need to think bigger and not just put a band-aid on this and actually fix the issue. And Congress has just failed this for over 30 plus years.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. We're going to talk more about that later.

But can you tell me more, Representative Morales, about what the crisis right now, and actually also as you mentioned over the past several months, what impact has it had on the city of Eagle Pass? Has it had a negative impact on, for example, the economy there?

MORALES: Definitely ... so your viewers, your listeners have to understand also that this has a domino effect.

The migrants crossing through the river are getting the asylum processing, will get asylum. They'll make a request for asylum. They'll get processed under that, and then they'll be able to stay here. If you try to use a dry land port, like an international bridge, they will stop you from even getting to the customs office or building, and there's only a minimum number.

So most of them are crossing through the river, exposing themselves, as well as our law enforcement officers, that are patrolling the river. So I think that we need to understand that. And then from that it has a rippling effect. Because then Governor Abbott, what he will do to send a message to Mexico and to the state of Coahuila, which is right across Eagle Pass.

And that's where our sister city of Piedras Negras sits. They'll send a message by then Governor Abbott asking for 100% commercial inspections, and what that does then is what used to take a commercial vehicle to cross the International Bridge. Five to 15 minutes at most, now that'll take hours.

And so they're just idling there because of these 100% commercial inspections. And whatever they were charging is just being wasted, for example, in gas. And it's doing absolutely nothing to actually curb the migrant search that's taking place. It's more of a economic deterrent that the governor is imposing on the state of Coahuila to send a message that you need to do more.

But in the process, our communities at the local, regional, and statewide, it has a domino effect. We were losing, I think last year during one of the legislative session, he imposed this restriction also, and a famous economist did some numbers and it's online. And I think that we lost close to $5 billion in those four or five days.

You can just imagine the rippling and domino effect that an action like that takes. And this is supposed to be the Republican party, right? Which is supposed to be pro-business, pro-small business, pro-limited government, pro-trade. And it's actually the antithesis of that.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. So by the way, I should note that you're a Democrat. You call yourself a conservative Democrat. And so we're going to come back in a little bit to talk about why you supported operation Lone Star from Governor Abbott. We'll do that in just a few minutes. But Representative Morales, you made a very important point just there. In that the border, a fully functioning border, exists not just to deal with migration or immigration of human beings, but also to facilitate the economy of border communities.

And in fact the rest of the country, right? Because so much economic activity that benefits the United States happens cross-border. So can you just tell me a little bit more, because this is the kind of on-the-ground detail that it's hard to get when you just read exclusively the national media for example.

I understand that you're a business owner as well and a lot of your employees may live in Mexico. And need to cross every day in order to work in your business, but that's become exceedingly difficult.

MORALES: Yeah. And it's not just only us. Remember in Del Rio about two years ago, there we had an influx of migrants that went from 1,000 that were under the international bridge there to 15,000 almost overnight.

And so we, at that point, it was the first time that we had actually seen a migrant search of that size. And I remember getting calls from HEB, from McDonald's, from grocery stores there in Del Rio that were dependent on their employees actually living across in Mexico and couldn't cross because they had closed down the bridges at that point.

And so were experiencing the same issues here most recently. I think we have approximately 15 employees in our tortilla factory that's been in our family for the last 36 years. We're extremely proud of that. And then some of our employees actually choose to live in Mexico and have their families over there because it's just a lot less inexpensive.

And so what you end up seeing or hearing from them is that it's taking, at times, it's taking four or five hours. We'd tell 'em, "Don't come, don't, we don't want you to wait in line for four or five hours just to cross." And especially when you have hours of operation, like at 6:00 a.m. in the morning, can you imagine somebody having to sit there for hours trying to get across or the bridge being closed?

Another, for example, we were having in December because of the super high number of migrant search that took place. They also, the federal government decided to also stop the rail bridge crossings. And we have Union Pacific who has now received the most influx here through this trade. And they were losing close to $200 million a day, them alone, and it was having a rippling effect of $1 billion a day.

CHAKRABARTI: Wow. And none of these actions seem to have made any meaningful impact on the migrant crisis itself. That's drawing all the political attention to Eagle Pass.

Part II

CHAKRABARTI: Today we're trying to get a deep understanding of exactly what is happening and what is at stake with the migrant crisis, specifically in Eagle Pass, Texas, and also the political implications of the standoff that is going there, going on there, the political standoff between the state of Texas and the federal government.

Now we spoke with people who are living in Eagle Pass, in addition to Representative Eddie Morales who joins us today. One of those residents is Carlos Herrera. He lives about five blocks from Shelby Park. He's been living there for about two and a half years. And Shelby Park is the place that the state of Texas has taken over or seized jurisdiction away from the federal government.

And Carlos says a few times in the past year, groups of migrants have approached him at about one or two in the morning looking for help.

CARLOS HERRERA: I get people close to where I live asking for money, and they come in groups of threes, fours, fives. For a group of individuals to come up to you at that time can be a little bit unnerving.

It's a bit nerve-racking, so it does cause for concern. I did take some security measures. I set up a camera, I set up spotlights. Now that we've had that huge influx of migrants that came over. Our citizens here, our community members have to wait a little bit longer for first aid responders.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, Herrera is also state director for the Eagle Pass Board of Realtors.

And in fact, because of the money that's coming to Eagle Pass from the state of Texas to support those Texas state troopers and national Guardsmen and women, Herrera says it seems to be boosting the local economy.

HERRERA: Getting the hotel rooms completely booked. Our rental market right now is just quote-unquote on fire.

Even houses are selling at a very good price per square foot. Also, restaurants or local bars, any restaurants at night after five, it's completely booked and you're probably waiting 45 minutes to an hour to even get seated down.

CHAKRABARTI: And one more thing, Carlos Herrera says he's got a good friend who works for Customs and Border Protection in Shelby Park, and he says that friend was almost relieved when Texas State Troopers and National Guardsmen came in.

HERRERA: He was working twelve-hour shifts, had no days off. It put a strain on his physical, I guess his physical and mental stance and it also, it was affecting his personal life as well with his family. I did sit down and I talked with him and he told me, "Hey, you know what, Carlos, I'm glad that they're helping us out because now I have actually, have a day or two off."

CHAKRABARTI: That's Carlos Herrera, Eagle Pass resident. Once again, I'm joined today by Representative Eddie Morales. He's a Texas State representative who represents House District 74 in the state legislature. And that district covers many cities and counties on the U.S.-Mexico border, including Del Rio, and Eagle Pass.

Representative Morales, can you tell us a little bit more about what your constituents, what the people living in Eagle Pass are thinking right now regarding Shelby Park and also what's been happening regarding the migrant crisis to their lives?

MORALES: Yes. So I want to first say that Carlos is 100% right in everything that he mentioned there.

That is essentially that feelings that I have, and my family have seen, as well as the conversations that I've had with many of my constituents. And so I totally understand those. I've even gotten photographs or videos, of constituents where people are in their backyard and they're working at night and they left their family in the House, and they're concerned about, are they well-intentioned? And you don't, those are the things, 99% of the migrants just want a better life, but it's still, there's a lot of uncertainty.

And so at this point, we're basically frustrated. We're frustrated that a federal government and specifically Congress has not taken effective action in over 30 years. We're frustrated that the state government has decided to use our community as a backdrop and as a prop for their political theater instead of actually doing the work that we were elected to do.

And it just seems that they want to come, they want to take these pictures by the riverbank on the boat ramp or take their nice pictures on the boat itself, on those DPS boats, and then they go back. And while we're losing billions of dollars at the federal level with this issue, and billions of dollars more at the state level, nothing was done.

And I want to say also to all of your listeners, republicans and Democrats work on 80%, 85%. We're able to do on legislature, at least on the House. We're able to get the work that we are sent down there to Austin to do. It's amazing how even Republicans will control the extreme far-right members and put them in check.

And so I found that appealing. But in this one instance, it just seems that it takes its own narrative and it takes its own wings and people buy into the whole political rhetoric instead of really having the adult conversation in the room. The communities like Eagle Pass, Del Rio, the city of Presidio, in El Paso, and the rest of the valley down south of us, are expecting for their elected leaders, either at the state level or the federal level.

CHAKRABARTI: This is why I've been very impressed by reading and listening to people actually who live in Eagle Pass. Because most, almost all of the residents there have a very deep understanding of immigration in the United States, because their own families have powerful immigration stories of all kinds.

And that's, I think you're exactly right, representative. We've been hearing people living there saying, no one's actually paying attention to how we can actually solve these problems. It's been hijacked for political purposes. Now, you have been very clear in your criticism of Governor Abbott, for example, saying that this is just political theater.

In an election year that isn't actually doing much to solve the problem, the seizing of Shelby Park, for example. But the president of the United States, President Biden, appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to be the immigration czar for the country. Do you think the Biden administration, not just now, for the many months this has been going on, has been listening to you and others from on the border about what is actually needed to solve this problem?

MORALES: Yeah, I've also been critical of the White House and specifically President Biden and put those critiques in writing to him and to the White House. We would be expecting more and we just, as the White House, the Democratic Party, we just open ourselves to these sorts of attacks from the opposition whenever you name a border czar who has not even been to the border.

CHAKRABARTI: I think she's been there once, but it hasn't been frequently, that's for sure.

MORALES: And that's the thing, when you're at the border, you should basically, this is having such a serious issue. You should basically be living here on the border, whether it's Texas or Arizona or California, to actually see what's going on a regular basis.

I think that's the level of importance that our community and our Texans and all Americans are expecting from their leaders. More importantly, I think that they're also, two years ago I was calling for president and for the governor also to ask to have a seat at the table with the president of Mexico and Latin America.

And only most recently in December when we had this huge migrant surge that the White House send Mayorkas and Blinken down there to speak to the president of Mexico. And within a day or two after, there was an exchange an agreement over some compensation for Mexico helping. We were immediately able to see the results and the fruits of those negotiations.

Mexico started sending people back in buses and in airplanes and not letting them even get to the riverbanks. This is what we were supposed to be doing, two and a half years ago. And more importantly, also, it's like we have created at the federal and state level, our security measures have created this billion-dollar industry for the bad guys.

For the cartels and the human smugglers, they get to exploit these migrants. They get to assault them, they get to steal from them, and then they also charge them. The numbers were anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000. Most recently in committee hearings, we've heard anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 that migrants had to pay in order for them to be able to cross.

And so we've created this industry that's just for the bad guys. We need to, and that's where my Texas Migrant and Processing Plan, I thought, would show up also Congress and saying you haven't taken action in over 30 years. Look, the state of Texas is going to carefully tailor legislation and take into account the instructions to the [Legislative] Council who draft our bills, would take into account the U.S. Arizona Supreme Court decision so you can narrowly tailor it, but so that we can bring some relief.

We can use our dry land ports. We can issue a non-voting, clearly distinguishable ID card. We will charge a $2,000 processing fee at the 8,000 daily numbers that we're seeing. We would generate $16 million a day. If we were to assess that processing fee in over $5 billion just in the Eagle Pass, Del Rio sector, just imagine in two years we would be able to reimburse ourselves as a state for the $10 billion that we've allocated under Operation Lone Star, under the last two sessions.

I think those are the numbers also that our Texas taxpayers are expecting their leaders to do and to have an efficient and wise use of their taxpayer dollars.

CHAKRABARTI: Has that idea gone anywhere? Representative?

MORALES: It's picked up some traction, but unfortunately, it's gone through some revisions, and I almost feel again, there's people that are carefully whispering or asking. And you got to remember, we had historic four special sessions. This legislative cycle has been the longest serving cycle in the state of Texas. We're supposed to be a part-time legislative body, but the governor has treated us as a full-time legislative body because he's the one that gets to call the special sessions.

And it almost feels like they're slow rolling the changes to the proposed bill. And it's almost because, I've sat down with Republicans, and my colleagues, and they'll say this bill makes too much sense.


MORALES: And it's sad because I think we could really have that discussion of a state taking care of itself.

Under the current predicament that we find ourselves in.


MORALES: And make it income generating as well as protecting migrants and giving them the status that they rightfully deserve. And putting conditions like they have to be gainfully employed so that we can address the Republican-based concerns that just coming and mooching from the system. We'll show you. They're going to pay a fee and they also have to be gainfully employed and pay into the system.

CHAKRABARTI: So Representative Eddie Morales, hang on here for just a second because I just want to hear from some other Texas listeners who reached out to us and then we need to move to the really thorny legal questions that this crisis is raising.

So first of all, this is On Point, listener Laura Espejel Rangel. She lives in Lincoln, Nebraska now, but she grew up on the border in Texas, specifically in McAllen, Texas. And Eagle Pass. She lived there for eight years, I should say. Didn't grow up, but lived there for eight years, from 2002 to 2008, while her father worked at the Mexican Consulate.

LAURA ESPEJEL RANGEL: What people don't understand about the realities about migration on the border or just border life is just how interconnected these cities are. I think living there is definitely a unique experience. Something else is that border crossings and illegal border crossings and unfortunate deaths of migrants is not, it's nothing new.

These are issues that have been happening for a very long time.

CHAKRABARTI: And here's Thomas O'Neill, a listener in Austin, and he says he understands what's motivating Governor Greg Abbott.

THOMAS: He is only acting out of frustration. With what he perceives, and a lot of other people perceive, as inaction, that has allowed the border to be overrun with so many illegals.

CHAKRABARTI: I'd like to bring Stephen Vladeck into the conversation now. He's the Charles Allen Wright Chair of Federal Courts at the University of Texas School of Law. He's also author of “The Shadow Docket: How the Supreme Court Uses Stealth Rulings to Amass Power and Undermine the Republic."

And he joins us now from Austin. Professor Vladeck, welcome back to On Point.

STEPHEN VLADECK: Thanks, Meghna. Great to be with you.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, so first of all, just set the record straight. Is Governor Abbott, is the state of Texas legally allowed to seize Shelby Park, put it under state jurisdiction and not allow federal law enforcement to enter?

VLADECK: So the short answer is no. And the longer answer is a little more complicated, the basic way that the Supreme Court has structured its understanding of immigration enforcement is that the federal government has the primary role in deciding what our immigration policies are going to be.

The federal government has the primary responsibility, Meghna, to set enforcement priorities. States are not supposed to be able to have their own enforcement priorities, and although local and state jurisdictions are free to help federal authorities and are free to obviously engage in their own protection of their local areas.

They're not supposed to be able to stand in the way of, to supplant or otherwise obstruct. Whatever the federal government is doing, no matter how strong their disagreements might be, no matter how compelling their arguments might be. Preemption is a matter of the Constitution's division of supremacy.

CHAKRABARTI: In fact, though, that's the exact argument in terms of protection that Governor Abbott is making, right? He has said explicitly that the Constitution gives him the right to protect Texas territory, which is of course coincident with territory of the United States. And he says he's protecting Texas from a quote-unquote invasion so that he does have the right to do this.

VLADECK: And so there are two different but equally significant problems with that argument. The first is as alarming and troubling and chaotic, as what's happening along the border is, it is not an invasion as the drafters of the constitution would've understood the term, as every court to ever consider the question has understood the term.

And before we even get to the bigger problem, there's just the sort of the threshold issue that calling it an invasion might score political points, and it might be rhetorically satisfying to those who have strong views about immigration policy. Constitutionally, it's a non-starter.

Even if it is though, Meghna, even if we assume for the sake of argument that you could call it an invasion. The way that Article I, Section 10, Clause III, the provision Governor Abbott referenced in the passage you played earlier, the way that works and the way it was always supposed to work is to empower states to defend themselves only until such time as the federal government could respond. Keep in mind, 1787. You know, we have lots of borders with foreign countries that at the time did not like us very much. We had a tiny federal army. We had a Congress that was out of session most of the year. So the reason why that clause is in the constitution.

Is to say, "Hey Texas, if you are invaded and the federal government hasn't had a chance to show up yet, you don't have to wait for us. You can defend yourselves." What Governor Abbott is doing is he is inverting that to say if the federal government is there, and I just don't think it's doing enough, I can override them.

One, Meghna, that's not how that provision has ever been understood. Two, if that were, it would be a radical restructuring of state and federal power, not just in the context of immigration, but in any context in which a state could claim even just rhetorically that it's being invaded by something else. And I understand that everyone's dander is up about the politics of immigration, but the constitutional law here, both, one is quite clear. And two is quite clear for a reason. And really what Governor Abbott's arguments reduced to are long since discredited, 19th century era arguments for what at the time was called nullification. Those arguments were wrong when they were first made, and they just don't survive if nothing else, the Civil War.

Part III

CHAKRABARTI: Professor Vladeck, just quickly when you were describing the original intent of the writers of the Constitution, when it came to federal jurisdiction versus state jurisdiction. For a second there, I thought I heard you sounding a little bit like a textualist on this matter.

VLADECK: (LAUGHS) So Meghna, it's textual, but it's also historical. So this is actually one of the rare cases in which the 1787 constitution actually just reincorporates text from our predecessor charter, from the articles of Confederation, we don't talk about the articles of Confederation that much. Because the Constitution was mostly meant to repudiate them. That the Constitution was drafted because the articles of Confederation were so weak that they gave too much power to the states, not enough power to the national government.

And one of the remarkable things about the clause Governor Abbott, is relying upon Article 1, Section 10, clause three is actually, that language was already in the articles of Confederation. And so what's striking about this is whether you're a textualist, an originalist, just you know, someone who has never even heard of those terms before.

Here's the context in which the historical evolution of how that power was understood, of how it was understood, that states would and would not be able to defend themselves. Actually, reinforces the point that it's the federal government's power in the first instance, and that the reason why the Constitution makes this exception, Meghna, from the otherwise prohibition on states, quote, engaging in war is for those circumstances that are very unlikely to arise today, but were very plausible in the late 18th century.

Where a state is invaded and federal troops are days, if not weeks away. Meghna, contrast that with Operation Lone Star, which has been underway now for two and a half years. And so whatever you think of what's happening along the Texas-Mexico border. The notion that the federal government hasn't had a chance to respond is just laughable.

And instead, what's really going on is Governor Abbott trying to use this constitutional provision as a way of basically countermanding a federal response that to his view, has been insufficient.

CHAKRABARTI: Representative Morales, it's time for us to explain exactly what Operation Lone Star is, because you said you did vote for it.

Can you just quickly explain what program that is, as Professor Vladeck says, has been going on for more than two years.

MORALES: Sure. So Operation Loan Star, remember Governor Abbott did not have to initiate border security. And once he petitioned our state body for funding so that we could secure the border, we had to make a concerted effort as to what were the benefits of doing that.

And what that meant was sending DPS troopers from all across the state down to the border so that they could provide and enhance the security measures that Border Patrol was undertaking. At the same time, he took the National Guard, the State National Guard. And also implemented them as part of the border security measures and sent a bunch of them down to the border.

And we have made up tents. We have Charlie Camp, for example, here in Eagle Pass. Where we have thousands of our Texas State National Guard stationed down here so that they could also provide added security measures for the border. And then Operation Lone Star would also have an aspect of a reimbursement aspect for funding for expenses that counties have actually undertaken. And having to assist border patrol or the troopers with this migrant surge and so that they could have their monies reimbursed. Because obviously city, local, small cities on the border or counties don't have the same resources that some of these urban bigger cities like San Antonio, Houston and Austin have.

And so that's the reason why when I went out there, our county judges and our mayors from, at that time, I represented 12 counties. Now I represent 11 counties. My district is still the largest district in the state of Texas and in the United States. There's over 770 miles of a shared border with Mexico, and like I mentioned, I represent nine out of the 14 counties that share a border with Mexico. And so be because of those reasons, I knew that there were undergoing an extensive number of expenses and we needed to have a reimbursement mechanism.

Specifically, though, I'd like to add also that I think an added measure, and that can be articulated as to why Governor Abbott's actions actually fall outside and are unlawful.

Also, I think an argument can be made, Representative Tracy King and I, in the first legislative cycle of Operation Lone star. We added an amendment to the bill where he would not be able to condemn or take anyone's property away using Operation Lone Star funds. And now we're actually seeing exactly that. He's taken over Shelby Park and he's using Operation Lone Star funding.

To house the National Guard and the troopers there in that area. And I think that would be another legal argument that could be articulated.


MORALES: This last legislative cycle, we again passed close to $5 billion. For the second set of Operation Lone Star, and we didn't have to file that amendment because the main author of the bill had already incorporated it using the final bill draft from the 87th legislature.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So Professor Vladeck, with all this background in mind. There is this standoff, essentially, political standoff happening in Shelby Park, in Eagle Pass. I have seen some legal analysts say that this potentially could cause the worst or a constitutional crisis, unlike we've seen since 1954, and the standoff over desegregating schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. What do you think about that?

VLADECK: I think it's possible, but I think it's important to stress that I don't think we're there yet. A lot of folks, I think, have spent much of the last nine days accusing Governor Abbott of already provoking the constitutional crisis because last Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the federal government on a very narrow question in one of the three lawsuits pending between the federal government and Texas over what's happening along the border.

I think a lot of folks misread Governor Abbott's reaction to that as defying what the Supreme Court had done. He didn't, the Supreme Court didn't order him to do anything, but Meghna, what that testifies to is that I think everyone's sort of attention spans are very fixated on what's happening.

Because one of the things that happened last week is after the Supreme Court ruled against Governor Abbott, basically all the courts said is the federal government can remove the razor wire that Texas has placed along the border. There were a number of right-wing commentators and even members of Congress, Congressman Chip Roy, foremost among them, calling for Governor Abbott to ignore an adverse Supreme Court ruling.

So Meghna, I think it's not just that Governor Abbott is taking a position that is, I think, radically at odds with long settled constitutional understandings. It's that there is a real vocal crowd on the right, pushing him to defy not just the federal government, but the Supreme Court if it comes to that.

And I think that's what's so alarming about this. It's not just that you have federal and state officials in close proximity to each other, in Shelby Park and elsewhere. It's that we are in this moment where immigration has become such a toxic wedge political issue that the sort of the reaction from the right to small setbacks that Texas is receiving thus far in court is to heck with the courts.

That's where I think we could see a constitutional crisis. Not just on the question of is Governor Abbott right or wrong on the law?

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, so we're not there yet, but it seems like you're setting, saying that the stage is being set to potentially propel the country to a constitutional crisis.

Now I want to just correct something I said earlier, when I mentioned desegregation in Little Rock, I said 1954, that was actually Brown V. Board. It wasn't until 1957 that crisis between the Eisenhower administration and the governor of Arkansas took place in Little Rock.

But actually, to that point, there are also folks and an increasing number of Democrats being willing to be vocal about this, who say the Biden administration outside of the courts could be doing more. They don't necessarily disagree with how Speaker Johnson, when he says perhaps the president should just use his powers of being able to issue executive orders in order to deal more effectively with the border crisis, Professor Vladeck, what do you think about that? So I think there are two problems with that line of thought. The first is that, I think, and Representative Morales should weigh in.

But my sense is that the problem on the federal side is a lack of resources.

And you can do a lot by an executive order. You can't create money out of nothing. And this is why President Biden, I think with heavy criticism from immigration groups and from folks on the left has been pushing for a deal in Congress. Because he needs more money, he needs more agents.

We need more federal personnel. The first problem is if it's about resources that really has to come from Congress, where, by all accounts, the reason why nothing's going forward is because former President Trump would rather run on the border than fix the border. Meghna, the second piece, and this is where former Congressman Castro, I think is part of the story.

There have been calls on President Biden to federalize the Texas National Guard.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah, I was wondering what you thought about that.

VLADECK: So first, I think we should stress that would just escalate the situation further. That would be a pretty radical assertion of federal authority over a state.

You can read the relevant statute to maybe get the president the authority to do it. I think it's a close call. It really depends upon how willing he would be to take the position that Texas is obstructing the enforcement of federal laws. But also, Meghna, what it really testifies to is that this really is, I think, to some degree, a trap for the Biden administration, which has not done as much as it could have over the last couple of years to handle this problem.

And it's a trap in the sense that if they do nothing, they'll be attacked for their indolence. And if they act in the most aggressive ways that perhaps President Trump might have acted, if he had been in office, then they'll get hammered for overreaching on the federal side. And I think that's why focusing on the court battles is really perhaps the best way to lower the temperature, instead of having it be Biden v. Abbott what do the federal courts have to say? And that's where these three pending lawsuits, one about the razor wire, one, about the movable buoys that Governor Abbott placed in the middle of the Rio Grande last year.

Then the third one, which is actually I think the really big one, the challenge to SB4, the new Texas immigration law that's set to go into effect in March. I think that's really sort of the better way out for everyone here. Because I think the courts can and should conclusively resolve these disputes.

I suspect they would resolve them in favor of the federal government, and maybe that would help to lower the political temperature at least a little bit.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. Representative Morales, let me ask you this about what Professor Vladeck just said. It's fairly clear, I think it's crystal clear from House Republicans that no matter what comes out of the Senate. And there's a bipartisan group of senators still working on an immigration deal in the Senate. Whether, regardless of whether the House says it won't vote on it, which Speaker Johnson has been clear about, they, he's not going to bring it to the floor of the House. But we could let that legislative process play out. And also, the legal process that Professor Vladeck talks about, it needs to play out as well. But in order, does any of that matter in the minds of voters, in the minds of your constituents, in terms of their frustration of the complete, let's say impotence they see in Congress and in President Biden?

Are they getting fed up with this and could it have an impact on how they vote in November?

MORALES: It does, and just to speak as to how illogical the argument is from Speaker Johnson. They continue to claim that the Biden and the White House, President Biden and the White House are not doing enough with respect to the border.

And when they have an opportunity to actually fast track border legislation in a way where they control the House of Representatives right now, the Republicans. And they can fashion a legislative bill to their liking, they're taking the opposite view of that, and they're actually asking President Biden to take executive order action, which makes no sense.

They continue to bring this up as their No. 1 issue, and it's for a perfect reason. Every time that this gets pulled, it pulls for the Republican base at 60% to 70%, border security does. So they have every reason to want to continue to talk about it day in and day out. But they don't want to fix it because they want to scare their base so that they can come out to fight.

And all they have now, after dealing with all these social issues, all they have now is a border security. Instead of really talking about the economy and jobs and infrastructure and getting public funding at the level that it should be. Teaching, paying our teachers correct salary, an increase of a minimum of $15,000, which is what the Democrats are pushing for. Access to healthcare, especially in rural areas like my district.

Those are the things that I think the community and the constituents of Texas want us to focus on. And instead, we're being led and they're great propagandists when it comes to this. And I think it has a lot to do with, I listened, I read a quote, and it was the measure of intelligence is the ability to change.

And it's attributed to Albert Einstein. How true that is? I don't know. But I think that the bigger picture here in trying to understand the dynamic is that you have Anglo-white Americans that are seeing their life change drastically, right in front of them. And this change is scary for them, to now see the minority actually be the majority like it is in Texas.

And I think that we need to take a pause to understand that everything's going to be okay. And just make sure that they understand, yes, times are changing, but we will be okay for them. And these migrants actually make it better for all of us. We have 800,000 jobs that remained unfilled in the state of Texas. 4% unemployment rate. We need laborers.

This program aired on January 31, 2024.


Headshot of Claire Donnelly

Claire Donnelly Producer, On Point
Claire Donnelly is a producer at On Point.


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Meghna Chakrabarti Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.



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