McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The city council of a small South Texas border town has voted to keep a public park on the banks of the Rio Grande open to the public, rescinding an order by the mayor that turned the property private for the state’s border security forces and marine buoy operations to be staged there.
The Eagle Pass City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday evening against making the park private after hearing an hour’s worth of citizens’ concerns to a packed crowd. But the council also decided that future negotiations with the Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star over Shelby Park could be possible.
Tricia Cortez, a co-founder of the Laredo-based No Border Wall Coalition was part of a group that traveled to Eagle Pass for the city council meeting and to witness the state’s new marine buoy barrier. On Wednesday she called the vote a “monumental victory.”
“Abbott’s Operation Lone Star is no longer invincible. It is now vulnerable. He can’t steamroll over our border towns without repercussions like he previously thought that he could,” she told Border Report.
Members of the No Border Wall Coalition, right, protested Aug. 1, 2023, to the takeover of a public park for a state border security initiative, prior to a city council meeting in Eagle Pass, Texas, which was standing-room only. (Photos Courtesy No Border Wall Coalition)
“It should be pretty clear that public property should not be used by the mayor and turned into private property on a whim to advance operation Lonestar and to charge immigrants for trespassing. So we are very happy with how this turned out,” Roberto Lopez, senior advocacy manager at the Texas Civil Rights Project, told Border Report Wednesday.
Lopez was in the packed audience on Tuesday night and said his nonprofit, which helps asylum-seekers, is concerned about the city closing the park in the future. They also don’t know what will happen to asylum-seekers who were charged with criminal trespassing when the park was deemed private. Or those who plead their cases already.
Eagle Pass Mayor Rolando Salinas Jr., last week signed a criminal trespass affidavit without consulting the city council that gave the Texas Department of Public Safety permission to enter Shelby Park and to issue criminal trespass arrests.
“They may try to find other ways to continue to charge immigrants with trespassing to cooperate with these very abusive tactics,” Lopez said. “We’re going to have to see how this plays out in court. I am very concerned for some of the folks who may not have representation who may not actually get to see an attorney. Just because this affidavit was rescinded doesn’t mean that everybody is free and clear.”
Priscilla Orta, supervising attorney for the nonprofit Lawyers For Good Government’s Project Corazon program, questioned whether Salinas’ Jr.,’ actions were legal.
“The real legal question is whether the city council or mayor has the right to take a public property and make it private under Texas law?” Orta told Border Report on Wednesday.
Her organization helps asylum-seekers who are waiting south of the border, and she has been outraged by recent reports that forces positioned on the border in Eagle Pass were told to turn back migrants into the river and to deny them water and other resources when they tried to cross into the United States.
Border Report has asked DPS if the agency will continue to stage manpower and resources at Shelby Park or move locations, and whether additional buoy strings will be deployed in the river. This story will be updated if that information is received.
Cortez, who also is executive director of the nonprofit Rio Grande International Study Center, which tracks and studies the Rio Grande, says they are concerned about water disruption from the 1,000-foot-long string of buoys anchored in the international waterway. The river is the sole source of drinking water for thousands in South Texas, and she says they and the local Eagle Pass coalition intend to keep fighting it and “this overarching battle of control of their city.”
The federal government has sued to stop the marine border buoy operations.
The Immigrant Legal Resource Center on Wednesday posted on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, that the city council’s vote was “incredible news.”
“This is a stepping stone which shows the power of supporting local community + HOW we show up for each other,” the nonprofit civil rights organization tweeted.
Dozens of people protested on Tuesday evening before the city council meeting against the buoys and takeover of the public park.
“What we saw yesterday was an incredible turnout from locals folks in Eagle Pass who have been organizing in the area with respect to the border wall with respect to the most recent closure of Shelby Park,” Lopez said. “We showed yesterday that organizations from across the state, and folks locally are not going to take this lying down, that we’re going to be watching our governments.”