Washington and Texas spar over anti-migrant river buoys

Austin, Texas - Texas Governor Greg Abbott defied the administration of President Joe Biden on Monday as the Justice Department sued his state for trying to block the US-Mexican border with a floating barrier and razor wire along the Rio Grande.

Migrants walk by a string of buoys placed on the water along the Rio Grande border with Mexico in Eagle Pass, Texas, on July 16, 2023.
Migrants walk by a string of buoys placed on the water along the Rio Grande border with Mexico in Eagle Pass, Texas, on July 16, 2023.  © SUZANNE CORDEIRO / AFP

The department told the state late last week that the string of large orange buoys near Eagle Pass, Texas, illegally obstruct river navigation and lack federal permissions.

"This floating barrier poses threats to navigation and public safety and presents humanitarian concerns," said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta.

But in a reply letter addressed to Biden on Monday, Abbott said that he had the power to protect the "sovereign" interests of Texas by installing the buoys.

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He accused Biden of not fulfilling his own responsibilities to halt the arrival of migrants over the southern border with Mexico.

"If you truly care about human life, you must begin enforcing federal immigration laws," Abbott wrote.

"By doing so, you can help me stop migrants from wagering their lives in the waters of the Rio Grande River," he said.

"Texas will see you in court, Mr. President," he added.

Republicans criticize Biden administration's border policy

Texas Governor Greg Abbott (l.) speaks about an illustration of new "border security" measures during a news conference at the State Capitol on June 8, 2023.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott (l.) speaks about an illustration of new "border security" measures during a news conference at the State Capitol on June 8, 2023.  © Brandon Bell / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

The string of buoys was installed in the river at the migrant crossing point this month, along with large razor-wire barriers on shore.

According to reports, some migrants have required rescue after being trapped in the razor wire.

A Biden administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Republicans are "playing political games" with immigration.

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Republican hardliners have spent years whipping up fear over what they frequently call an "invasion" of "illegal immigrants." Donald Trump and his main rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have put what they claim to be out-of-control border crossings at the center of their campaigns.

However, the White House points out that the number of unauthorized crossings has plummeted in the wake of strict new asylum rules, which many rights groups have called cruel and inhumane.

"Republican officials don’t want solutions. They want chaos," the administration official said.

Justice Department sues over Texas' anti-migrant buoys

Migrants seeking asylum rest on an island while attempting to cross the Rio Grande river into the United States on July 18, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas.
Migrants seeking asylum rest on an island while attempting to cross the Rio Grande river into the United States on July 18, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas.  © Brandon Bell / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

Hours after Abbott's letter was released, the Justice Department filed suit in federal court in Austin, Texas.

It said the barrier violated the US Rivers and Harbors Act, which establishes protections for public waterways under the oversight of the Army Corps of Engineers.

The suit said Texas needed permission from the Army Corps of Engineers to place any structure or barrier in the Rio Grande.

The Justice Department asked the court to order Abbott to remove the barrier.

"We must all recognize that there are laws and policies in place – both domestic and international – to ensure the safety and security of everyone working, living and traveling along the river. These laws cannot be ignored," said Jaime Esparza, the federal prosecutor in Austin.

In addition, a leaked US Customs and Border Protection memo said the razor wire placed by state agents interfered with its own border patrol operations.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he had held a "very productive" meeting with a US delegation led by top White House official Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall.

Lopez Obrador said in a tweet late Monday evening that the talks with Biden's homeland security advisor covered "the immigration issue with a focus on respect for human rights" as well as the "fight against fentanyl and arms trafficking."

Cover photo: SUZANNE CORDEIRO / AFP

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