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US: Texas sued over floating barriers to deter migrants

July 25, 2023

The Justice Department said the controversial barriers were built without relevant authorization. Texas Governor Greg Abbott defended his actions against irregular migration in anticipation of the lawsuit.

Buoy barriers are installed and situated in the middle of the Rio Grande river on July 18, 2023 in Eagle Pass, Texas.
The barriers were installed in the middle of the Rio Grande River to block migrants attempting to cross into the USImage: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The US Justice Department has sued the state of Texas over the installment of floating barriers in the Rio Grande River to stop migrants crossing from Mexico.

The Rio Grande is 1,896 miles (3,051 kilometers) long, running from Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico and is the effective US-Mexican border through most of Texas.

Every day, hundreds of migrants attempt to cross the river to try to enter the United States.

Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott has taken several steps in recent years to block migrants. Those included razor-wire fencing, arresting migrants and charging them with trespassing, and bussing asylum-seekers to other states led by the Democratic party.

What did the Justice Department say?

In its court filing, the Justice Department said the barriers were built on US navigable water without the authorization of the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Jaime Esparza, the US attorney for the Western District of Texas, sent Abbott a letter last week, threatening to take legal action against the barriers' installment. He argued they illegally obstruct navigation on the river.

Migrant families attempt to reach the United States via the Rio Grande from Matamoros, Tamaulipas state, Mexico, May 11, 2023.
Texas had previously installed razor wires to prevent migrants from crossingImage: Alfredo Estrella/AFP via Getty Images

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre echoed similar concerns. She told reporters the Texas governor's anti-immigration policies have generally complicated river access for US Border Patrol agents.

"Those are unlawful actions that are not helpful and are undermining what the president has put forward and is trying to do," she said.

A leaked US Customs and Border Protection memo also said the razor wire interfered with border patrol operations.

Last week, Mexico said it complained to the US government over the barriers' installment.

What did Abbott say?

In anticipation of the lawsuit and in response to an earlier legal warning by the Justice Department, Abbott sent US President Joe Biden a letter.

He defended his "right" to secure the state borders against migration and accused Biden of failing to enforce immigration laws and leading to a "record-breaking level of illegal immigration."

"Texas will see you in court, Mr. President," Abbott wrote.

The Biden administration has argued that the number of crossings into the country has dropped significantly since introducing new asylum rules. However, some 100,000 were still apprehended in June, the Reuters news agency reported.

Combating migration is a key issue in the election campaigning of the Republican party's two top contenders for the presidential race, Donald Trump and Ron Desantis.

Thousands of migrants have died in South Texas

rmt/kb (AFP, AP, Reuters)