Justice Department tells Texas that buoy barrier on the Rio Grande violates federal law

The United States Department of Justice notified Texas that a floating barrier of buoys that the state placed on the Rio Grande (or Grande) River violates federal law and poses humanitarian problems for migrants crossing into the United States from Mexico.

The Joe Biden administration told Republican Gov. Gregg Abbott that the barrier put up this month near the border town of Eagle Pass, Texas, was “illegal” in a letter dated Thursday, which was obtained by Associated Press.

“The floating barrier poses a risk to navigation as well as public safety on the Rio Grande, and presents humanitarian concerns,” read the letter, which also notifies the state that the Department of Justice intends to file a lawsuit if the buoys are not removed.

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

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

The buoys are the latest measure in Abbott’s multibillion-dollar operation to reinforce the state’s 1,930-kilometer (1,200-mile) border with Mexico. Other measures have included putting up barbed wire and arresting migrants on trespassing charges. The mission known as Operation Lone Star came under renewed scrutiny after a police officer said migrants were denied water and orders were issued to push asylum seekers back into the Rio Grande.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said this week that the agent’s testimony, which was embodied in an email sent to a supervisor, is under an internal investigation.

The buoy barrier, whose size is similar to that of a wrecking ball, covers 305 meters of the middle course of the Rio Grande, with anchors in its bed.

Eagle Pass is part of a Border Patrol sector that has had the second highest number of migrant crossings this fiscal year with approximately 270,000 encounters, though that number is less than this time last year.

The federal government has said that illegal border crossings have decreased significantly since new immigration rules came into force in May, after the restrictions on asylum implemented by the COVID-19 pandemic expired.

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