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Will The Kickapoo Tribe Be Dragged Into The Abbott-Biden Fray Over Illegal Immigration?

Kickapoo tribal police trucks
Image CreditTodd Bensman

With Abbott shutting down Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, illegal border crossings are spiking down the road on tribal lands.


KICKAPOO NATION, Texas — By now, anyone following President Joe Biden’s historic mass illegal immigration has heard about Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s battle with the administration over border fencing at the Eagle Pass region.

The legal fight over concertina wire and anti-climb fencing threatens to spiral into a constitutional crisis. For now, neither side, including the illegal immigrants, appears to be making a move at the highly fortified Shelby Park area of Eagle Pass, ground zero in the fencing fight.

But an almost perfect new route appears to have opened a dozen miles downstream on the Rio Grande to get immigrants around the Texans at Eagle Pass, sources close to the tribe tell me. This area is potentially a new floodgate that Abbott would be challenged to oppose but would greatly please open-border Democrats and political appointees.

A Border Patrol boat patrols the Rio Grande along Kickapoo tribal lands (left).
Image CreditTodd Bensman

The small 120-acre reservation abuts the Rio Grande in western Maverick County just south of Eagle Pass and sports a bustling and profitable slots-only casino on its northern edge. As of press time, comment requests to the Kickapoo Tribe went unanswered. 

But one official in a position to know Kickapoo country said the illegal crossing numbers on that land have skyrocketed from the usual one or two per day to more than 400 and up to 500 on a weekend. It was always easier to cross elsewhere in the area.

The tribe’s website describes its 1,095 enrolled members as one of three federally recognized tribes of Kickapoo people. The tribe was also recognized in 1977 by the Texas Indian Commission. Other members are scattered on tribal lands in Oklahoma, Kansas, and northern Mexico.

With all that is going on just up the river from the reservation, pitch-perfect circumstances in and around the tribal land point to far larger numbers of immigrants who likely will begin to cross here. Higher traffic threatens to drag the highly private Kickapoo Tribe, whose name has barely been uttered amid border crisis chaos, into the Biden-Abbott fray and expose the tribe to angry public criticism from those opposed to open-borders policies.

Immigrants are drawn to the reservation because they know they’ll be met by Border Patrol agents under orders to quickly process them all into the country. Crossing here means Abbott’s police or soldiers cannot repel or arrest them for trespassing. Also absent from Kickapoo land is any semblance of the World War I trench warfare fortification look that Abbott has built of denuded riverbanks, miles of concertina wire, shipping containers as makeshift walls, and constantly patrolling Humvees and state police patrol vehicles. Immigrants would regard the stark difference as a neon welcome sign to enter. 

It’ll likely stay just like that. The tribal source told me the tribe is under no legal obligation to allow state police or the National Guard to operate on tribal territory as they do upriver at Eagle Pass. Nor would tribal leaders ever agree to state police operations because leaders are sympathetic to immigration. Other circumstances, namely the big policy fights over illegal immigration between Abbott and Biden, also conspire to endanger precious Kickapoo neutrality.

For starters, Abbott has spent billions of state tax dollars constructing and guarding miles of concertina wire and fencing fortifications to deter illegal immigrants from leaving the Rio Grande waters at the busy Eagle Pass crossings under three international bridges.

These moves have put his policies of stop, block, and deter at loggerheads with Biden’s Border Patrol agents, who are under polar opposite federal orders to welcome and quickly process into the nation every illegal crosser they meet.

The mere presence of these green uniformed angels to immigrants was ruining the Texas fortification project at Eagle Pass. As one immigrant across the river in Piedras Negras put it, everyone knows the game is to evade the mean tan-uniformed Texans and find the nice green uniformed federals.

“The Texas Guard are blocking all the migrants in Mexico and are a big problem, and the Border Patrol lets us cross. Federal immigration is very good. Texas guards are very bad,” he said.

Abbott was so aggravated by this dynamic that he ordered his troops to seize the huge river-hugging Shelby Park it had heavily fortified and kick out the Border Patrol agents, who sometimes cut or used a forklift to raise the Texas wire to let immigrants in.

Biden won a temporary Supreme Court ruling allowing him to have all the Texas fortifications torn down. But so far, Border Patrol has kept its distance from the Texans here, and during a recent reconnaissance trip to the area, I couldn’t find a single immigrant trying to cross at Shelby Park.

Plenty of Border Patrol agents work on Kickapoo land with their catch-and-release orders, and some said they think they’re being reinforced. I saw tractors and earth-moving equipment expanding a Border Patrol boat launch site just a few hundred yards upriver from the tribe’s successful casino.

A Border Patrol boat ramp area under expansion last week on Kickapoo tribal lands.
Image CreditTodd Bensman

The increase by hundreds on Kickapoo territory would likely be much higher were it not for a recent Biden administration deal to have Mexican President Manuel López Obrador round up immigrants on his side and ship them 1,500 miles south to areas along the Guatemala border and shut down access to cargo trains.

There’s no telling how long Mexico will hold the line, and in any case, word of these new routes with guaranteed catch-and-release outcomes tends to spread lightning fast on the migration trails and among Mexican cartel smugglers.

Word about the allure of accessible Kickapoo lands, where only Biden’s green uniformed angels of entry are posted, is almost certainly spreading.

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