Clutching assault rifles, and surrounded by Humvee armoured cars and state police, a group of National Guardsmen in full combat gear stand menacingly next to a gate under a 20ft-high reinforced steel fence.
Given the endless strife along America’s southern frontier a few hundred yards away, it’s not an unexpected sight in this rough-and-ready border town.
But these troops are not facing Mexico. Instead, they’re staring back towards the Texan town of Eagle Pass — and the rest of America.
In an extraordinary development that illustrates both the ferocious political polarisation of the U.S. and the growing rancour surrounding America’s immigration crisis, an armed stand-off between the Texas National Guard and the U.S. Border Patrol has developed in this proudly independent corner of the country.
The remarkable scenes that the Mail witnessed stem from a highly provocative decision this month by Texas’s Republican Governor, Greg Abbott, to order armed troops and police to take control of Eagle Pass’s 47-acre Shelby Park — a critical entry point for undocumented migrants — and freeze out the Border Patrol. Since Biden was elected, Abbott has lambasted the Democrats for doing much to encourage the migration crisis.
During his election campaign, the President vowed to ‘restore [America’s] moral standing in the world and our historic role as a safe haven for refugees and asylum seekers’: music to the ears of Left-wing voters and, fatally, would-be immigrants, too.
Rather than sneak into the U.S. and go into hiding, most migrants know that the first thing they need to do is find a Border Patrolman and request asylum.
They will then be swiftly processed and released into the care of a non-governmental organisation. They can legally remain and work in the U.S. until their application is decided — a process that often takes years.
As the floodgates opened, Eagle Pass, a small town with a population of just 28,000 people, became a focal point for the migrant influx.
In the week before Christmas alone, the local Border Patrol apprehended more than 22,000 undocumented migrants, most from Latin America.
Many were held in a field in Shelby Park, overwhelming local police, fire and ambulance services. The already cash-strapped town lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in income when one of the two economically crucial bridges into Mexico was closed to free up more border agents.
A few months earlier, Abbott had ordered a 1,000-ft string of buoys, separated by serrated metal plates akin to circular saw blades and supporting a submerged mesh net, to be installed near Eagle Pass in the Rio Grande, the river that marks the border between Texas and Mexico. The move sparked outrage from the Mexican government and human rights groups.
Then, just over two weeks ago, Abbott took what many regarded as the nuclear option and decided to enforce his views down the barrel of a gun.
National Guardsmen occupied Shelby Park overnight and — against the wishes of the town, which owns the park — started strengthening fortifications against both migrants and federal agents.