The Biden administration has taken legal action against the state of Texas regarding the installation of a floating barrier in the Rio Grande river, designed to deter migrants attempting to cross the US-Mexico border.
The barrier, comprising orange buoys connected by webbing, was initially announced by Governor Greg Abbott in early June.
Federal authorities argue that such barriers violate federal law and raise “humanitarian concerns.”
Covering approximately 305 meters (1,000 feet) of the Rio Grande, the buoys are anchored to the river’s bottom, with state officials asserting that the barrier will enhance border security. Conversely, immigrant advocates are concerned that the barrier may prove ineffective and potentially hazardous for migrants.
The Justice Department has filed a nine-page lawsuit in a federal court in Austin, contending that “Texas authorities were obligated to seek federal permission before implementing the barriers.”
According to federal officials, the lack of such authorization violates federal laws governing navigable waterways.
Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta stated, “We allege that Texas has flouted federal law by installing a barrier in the Rio Grande without obtaining the required federal authorization. This floating barrier poses threats to navigation and public safety and presents humanitarian concerns. Additionally, the presence of the floating barrier has prompted diplomatic protests by Mexico and risks damaging US foreign policy.”
Prior to the lawsuit, the Biden administration had advised Texas to avoid legal action by removing the barriers from the river. However, Governor Abbott remained defiant, attributing the necessity of the barrier to President Joe Biden’s purported failure in addressing “record-breaking levels of illegal immigration.”
In response, a White House spokesperson asserted that the buoys impede Border Patrol’s ability to secure the border and endanger both migrants and border agents.
The floating barriers near Eagle Pass have also faced criticism for their potential inefficacy in deterring border crossings and raising safety concerns for migrants. A local kayak tour operator has filed a separate lawsuit, claiming that the buoys have negatively impacted his business and harmed local flora and fauna.
The situation has drawn increased scrutiny, with a report from the Houston Chronicle detailing officers’ worries about “inhumane” treatment of migrants in the Eagle Pass area during Operation Lone Star.
This initiative, launched in March 2021, has resulted in the apprehension of over 394,200 illegal immigrants and 31,300 criminal arrests, according to Texas officials.