Justice Department Says Texas Floating Barrier on Rio Grande Raises Humanitarian Concerns

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Department of Justice said in Texas that a floating barrier of wrecking ball-sized buoys the state placed on the Rio Grande violates federal law and raises humanitarian concerns for migrants crossing into the United States from Mexico.

President Joe Biden’s administration told Republican Gov. Greg Abbott the barrier installed this month near the Texas border town of Eagle Pass was “unlawful” in a letter dated Thursday obtained by The Associated Press.

“The floating barrier poses a risk to navigation, as well as public safety, in the Rio Grande, and it presents humanitarian concerns,” reads the letter, which also advises the state that the Department of Justice intends to prosecute if the barriers are not removed.

Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Friday, but on Twitter the governor wrote that Texas was acting within its rights.

“Texas has sovereign authority to defend our border,” Abbott tweeted.

The buoys are the latest escalation in Abbott’s multi-billion dollar operation to secure the state’s 1,200 mile (1,930 kilometer) border with Mexico. Other measures have included barbed wire fences and the arrest of migrants accused of trespassing. The mission known as Operation Lone Star has come under renewed scrutiny after a soldier said migrants were denied water and orders were given to push asylum seekers back into the Rio Grande.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said this week that the soldier’s accounts, which were forwarded in an email to a supervisor, are under internal investigation.

The barrier of buoys covers 1,000 feet (305 meters) 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 around 270,000 encounters – although that’s lower than this time last year.

The Biden administration has said illegal border crossings have dropped significantly since new immigration rules took effect in May when pandemic-related asylum restrictions expired.


Lindsay Whitehurst, an Associated Press reporter in Washington, contributed to this report.

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