The Department of Justice warned Texas on Thursday it plans to sue over the state’s decision to install a floating wall in the middle of the Rio Grande river, which forms the international border between the US and Mexico.
“The State of Texas’s actions violate federal law, raise humanitarian concerns, present serious risks to public safety and the environment, and may interfere with the federal government’s ability to carry out its official duties,” the DoJ wrote in a letter to state officials, which was obtained by CNN.
The letter says US law “prohibits the creation of any obstruction to the navigable capacity of waters of the United States, and further prohibits building any structure in such waters without authorization from the United States Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”).”
Guardsmen patrol as workers continue to deploy large buoys to be used as a border barrier along the banks of the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas, Wednesday, July 12, 2023— (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
“Texas has the sovereign authority to defend our border, under the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Constitution,” Texas governor Greg Abbott said in a statement on twitter on Friday. “We have sent the Biden Administration numerous letters detailing our authority, including the one I hand-delivered to President Biden earlier this year.”
(The governor claimed last year he is authorised under the US Constitution to carry out military-style actions along the border because of a clause concerning states under “invasion,” though legal scholars have said this is not an accurate interpretation of the provision.)
The warning from the federal government is the latest challenge to the governor’s plan to install a 1,000-foot long aquatic wall of buoys and netting across the river at Eagle Pass, Texas, a busy border-crossing site.
As The Independent reported, a local kayak guide has also sued the state, arguing that Texas doesn’t have jurisdiction to build an impediment along an international borderline. Mexico has also said it is investigating whether Texas broke international law with the barriers.
“You’ve taken a beautiful waterway and you’ve converted it into a war zone,” Jessie Fuentes, a kayak guide who works on the Rio Grande, told The Independent.
Migrant advocates have also strongly criticised the buoys.
They argue such installations don’t actually slow down immigration, but rather will push migrants towards ever more remote places to cross the border, increasing the likelihood they will face a perilous and potentially lethal crossing. An estimated 250 people died crossing the Rio Grande last year, and that was before Texas installed what amounts to a giant net in the river.
“It’s been proven time after time that these so-called prevention through deterrence strategies don’t work,” Fernando García of the Border Network for Human Rights told The Independent. “They have not stopped immigration flows, but what they have done is they have put immigrants at risk.”
“All of this is death by policy.”
Criticisms have also come from the inside.
A Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) trooper, one of countless state officers deployed to the border under Mr Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, wrote in a message to superiors that the obstacles at the border, as well as alleged orders from the state to push migrants back into the water, showed that Texas has “stepped over a line into the inhumane.”
The medic also detailed multiple instances in June and July in which military-style barriers along the Rio Grande caused migrants to suffer severe injuries and medical issues. He described a man who lacerated his leg on razor wire attached to a buoy while trying to rescue his son, a 15-year-old who broke his leg trying to avoid the floating barrier, and a 19-year-old who had a miscarriage while trapped in razor wire.
“We need to operate it correctly in the eyes of God,” Trooper Nicholas Wingate told the Texas DPS. “We need to recognize that these are people who are made in the image of God and need to be treated as such."
Texas officials have denied ordering troopers to push migrants into the water, and the claims from the trooper are under investigation.