July 25 (UPI) — The Justice Department on Monday filed a civil complaint against the state of Texas and its Republican governor, Greg Abbott, over his use of migrant-deterring buoys in the Rio Grande.
Biden administration officials said his floating barrier of connected buoys, which was deployed without prior permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, constitutes a breach of federal law, including the Rivers and Harbors Act.
The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Austin, asks the court to halt the building of the barrier and to require Abbott’s administration to remove it.
“We allege that Texas has flouted federal law by installing a barrier in the Rio Grande without obtaining the required federal authorization,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement.
“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 U.S. foreign policy,” she said.
Abbott unveiled the Rio Grande barriers last month while signing a half dozen bills related to blocking migrants and asylum seekers from entering Texas.
“What we’re doing right now, we’re securing the border at the border,” he said at the time. “What these buoys will allow us to do is to prevent people from even getting to the border.”
The first 1,000 feet of river buoys were deployed earlier this month in Eagle Pass, which state officials have singled out as “the center of gravity for smuggling” in Texas.
The move is part of series of anti-migrant measures deployed by Abbott’s administration under his Operation Lone Star, which was launched in March 2021 shortly after U.S. President Joe Biden took office.
Other tactics have included dispatching National Guard members to the border and sending tens of thousands of migrants by bus to out-of-state cities with Democratic mayors.
The Justice Department, however, argued the river buoys are a move that is patently illegal. Federal officials threatened to sue last week, sending a letter to Abbott giving him until 1 p.m. CDT on Monday to remove the barriers.
Abbott responded with a letter to Biden early on Monday refusing to do so, declaring that the U.S. Constitution “grants Texas sovereign authority to protect its borders because the president refuses to enforce federal immigration laws.”
“If you truly care about human life, you must begin enforcing federal immigration laws,” he wrote. “By doing so, you can help me stop migrants from wagering their lives in the waters of the Rio Grande River.”
But Jaime Esparza, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, said federal laws and policies long in place, designed to “ensure the safety and security of everyone working, living and traveling along the river … cannot be ignored, and my office will take and support the appropriate legal action to uphold them.”