Park in Eagle Pass known for migrant crossing seized without city's knowledge, mayor says

ByValerie Gonzalez AP logo
Saturday, January 13, 2024
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EAGLE PASS, Texas -- The mayor of a Texas border city at the center of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott 's aggressive measures to curb migrant crossings accused the state Thursday of a new escalation as state troopers closed a large public park along the Rio Grande without asking permission.

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The park is a new tension point in Eagle Pass, where large waves of migrant arrivals last month temporarily closed a rail crossing and overwhelmed shelters.

U.S. Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas visited Eagle Pass on Monday, days after Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson toured the border city.

Eagle Pass Mayor Rolando Salinas questioned why the state closed the 50-acre park now, since daily apprehensions in the region have fallen in recent weeks.

Shelby Park touches the river, includes a ramp for boaters, and has been used by the state to stage vehicles and equipment for its border mission known as Operation Lone Star.

RELATED: Texas National Guard blocking Border Patrol from stretch of border: DOJ

Salinas said the state gave Eagle Pass officials no warning and offered no timetable on when the park would reopen. He said a DPS official told him the state was taking custody of the park through a disaster declaration, an authority Texas officials have used before on the border.

"That is not a decision that we agreed to," Salinas said. "This is not something that we wanted. This is not something that we asked for as a city."

Asked about the closure, Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze did not address the park or the mayor's comments and instead reiterated criticism of President Joe Biden's immigration policies.

"Texas will continue to deploy Texas National Guard soldiers, DPS troopers, and more barriers, utilizing every tool and strategy to respond to President Biden's ongoing border crisis," she said in a statement.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to a request for comment.

Eagle Pass is in the path of totality for the total solar eclipse in April. Salinas said the city has invested $1 million for a planned festival in the park and expressed worry over the closure disrupting those plans.

Over the summer, thousands of people were crossing illegally into the U.S. through Eagle Pass. The numbers subsided but again rose in December when thousands of migrants overwhelmed federal resources.

But a sharp decrease was noted at the start of January after Mexico stepped up immigration enforcement.

The number of daily apprehensions decreased from the thousands to about 400 or 500, according to the mayor.

RELATED: US Customs and Border Protection reopening 4 ports of entry

Eagle Pass is also where Texas has put buoy barriers in the Rio Grande and arrested migrants on state trespassing charges.

Last summer, Salinas signed a blanket trespassing charge affidavit to allow trespassing arrests on park grounds during a spike in migrant crossings. Following local backlash, he rescinded the affidavit before signing it again weeks later.