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DOJ Warns Texas of Legal Action Over Rio Grande Buoys

Abbott responds that he's not budging
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 12, 2023 2:28 PM CDT
Updated Jul 23, 2023 11:45 AM CDT
Texas Is Deploying Buoys to Deter Migrants
A worker helps unload large buoys that are set to be deployed in the Rio Grande, Friday, July 7, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas.   (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
UPDATE Jul 23, 2023 11:45 AM CDT

The Justice Department has told Texas it plans to take legal action to force the state to remove barriers placed in the Rio Grande to prevent migrant crossings, a warning that was shrugged off by Gov. Greg Abbott. "This floating barrier poses a risk to navigation, as well as public safety," a letter sent Thursday and signed by Assistant Attorney General Todd Kimm says, adding that it also poses humanitarian concerns, Axios reports. Abbott answered on Twitter that Texas has the constitutional right to fortify its border. "We will continue to deploy every strategy to protect Texans and Americans—and the migrants risking their lives," the governor wrote, adding that he'll see President Biden in court.

Jul 12, 2023 2:28 PM CDT

Texas has begun rolling out what is set to become a new floating barrier on the Rio Grande in the latest escalation of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's multibillion-dollar effort to secure the US border with Mexico, which already has included busing migrants to liberal states and authorizing the National Guard to make arrests. But even before the huge orange buoys were unloaded Friday from the trailers that hauled them to the border city of Eagle Pass, there were concerns over this part of Abbott's unprecedented challenge to the federal government's authority over immigration enforcement, the AP reports. Migrant advocates voiced concerns about drowning risks and environmentalists questioned the impact on the river.

Setting up the barriers could take up to two weeks, according to Lt. Chris Olivarez, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety, which is overseeing the project. Once installed, the above-river parts of the system and the webbing they're connected with will cover 1,000 feet of the middle of the Rio Grande, with anchors in the riverbed. Eagle Pass is part of a Border Patrol sector that has seen the second highest number of migrant crossings this fiscal year with about 270,000 encounters—though that is lower than it was at this time last year.

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Stephen Mumme, a political scientist at Colorado State University, tells NPR that the barrier in international waters is a violation of US-Mexico treaties—and could change the border by altering the flow of the river. "What Abbott is doing is conducting an irresponsible experiment at the expense of federal and international law," Mumme says. Jessie Fuentes, who owns a canoe and kayaking business that takes paddlers onto the Rio Grande, has filed a lawsuit seeking a permanent injunction to stop Texas' use of the buoys. (More Texas stories.)

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