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Judge Orders Border Agents to Stop Cutting Texas’ Barbed Wire Fence

In the latest chapter in an expanding legal struggle over border security, a federal judge in Texas ordered federal Border Patrol agents on Monday to stop cutting concertina wire that had been placed by the state along the Rio Grande to deter migrants from crossing from Mexico.

The temporary restraining order, granted by Judge Alia Moses of the Western District of Texas, came as part of a lawsuit filed last week by the state attorney general, Ken Paxton, who has argued that the federal agents are illegally destroying Texas property and allowing migrants into the country.

The order barred agents for now from cutting or moving the wire barriers strung in and around Eagle Pass, which have caused injuries to a number of migrants in recent months. “Deterring unlawful activity, including illegal entry, is in the public interest,” Ms. Moses, appointed by President George W. Bush, wrote in her order.

But the order also provided an exception allowing federal agents to cut through the barriers when necessary to help migrants in medical distress.

“The plaintiff established that the balance of interests favors granting an injunction, but just barely,” Ms. Moses wrote. She said the matter needed to be litigated further given the competing interests, including the private property rights of the landowners who allowed the placement of the concertina wire, the state’s right to help property owners protect their land from trespassers, and the federal government’s “responsibilities over national security and border security.”

She set a hearing for Nov. 7 to decide whether the restraining order should be extended to a longer-term preliminary injunction.

The wrangling over the concertina wire is not the only legal battle between Texas and the Biden administration on the border. They are also fighting in court over the state’s placement of a 1,000-foot floating buoy barrier in the middle of the Rio Grande. A federal appeals court ruled last month that the barrier could remain in place while the argument proceeded.

Texas lawmakers are also moving forward with legislation that would make it a state crime to enter the country without authorization and empower the police to arrest migrants across Texas — legislation that could set up a consequential challenge to federal supremacy over immigration policy.

“Biden created this crisis & has tried to block us at every turn,” Gov. Greg Abbott wrote Monday on X after the new court order was issued. “Attorney General Paxton & I are pushing back.”

“Close the border now,” Mr. Paxton wrote in response to the governor on the social media site, formerly known as Twitter.

A spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the agency would abide by the order but not comment on pending litigation.

“Generally speaking,” the spokesman, Luis Miranda, said in an email, “Border Patrol agents have a responsibility under federal law to take those who have crossed onto U.S. soil without authorization into custody for processing, as well as to act when there are conditions that put our work force or migrants at risk.”

A Democratic state senator, Roland Gutierrez, said in a statement that the wire did not provide a solution to the recent surge of migrants and was endangering Border Patrol agents. “This is a political stunt and nothing else,” said Mr. Gutierrez, who is running for U.S. Senate.

In recent months, Texas has expanded its use of concertina wire along the riverbank, part of a more aggressive approach to deter migrants from entering the state. Some migrants have been injured from the sharp wire. Drownings are common in the river’s swift currents.

According to the state’s initial complaint, Texas has spent roughly $11 million to buy more than 70,000 rolls of concertina wire. Most of it has been deployed on private property, with the permission of landowners, by National Guard members assigned to Mr. Abbott’s border security program, known as Operation Lone Star.

Mr. Paxton argued that the sharp fencing helped to deter crossings as well as drug smuggling, particularly on land around the small city of Eagle Pass, which has seen recent surges of migrants. According to the suit, border agents cut the wire at least 20 times during the first half of the year “to admit aliens illegally entering Texas through the fence hole created by CBP’s destruction of state property.”

In recent months, Texas has put down even more concertina wire, and border agents have continued to cut or move it, according to the suit. “They doubled down on their policy, pattern or practice of destroying Texas’s wire fence,” it said, listing more than 20 additional instances of the wire being cut in September and October.

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