McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Some South Texas lawmakers, environmentalists and migrant advocates are applauding a federal lawsuit filed earlier this week against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s new floating border barrier in the Rio Grande — while the Abbott administration and barrier supporters say the new buoys need to stay put.
“The governor has recently directed the addition of floating barriers, netting, and sharp razor wire along the river, which increase the risk of injury and drowning for both migrants and law enforcement personnel,” U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat from South Texas, said in a statement Tuesday. “While we are all for safe and secure borders, and are against irregular migration, South Texans are shocked and condemn the recent inhumane and abusive actions promoted by Gov. Abbott.”
The Department of Justice on Monday sued the Abbott administration, which recently erected the 1,000-foot stretch of orange buoys in the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas, to prevent migrants from crossing from Mexico.
Abbott has defended the buoys, saying Texas has a “sovereign” interest to protect its borders from Mexico.
On Tuesday, Abbott tweeted: “Texas will take the Biden Administration all the way to the Supreme Court to defend our sovereign authority to respond to the border crisis.”
“Neither of us wants to see another death in the Rio Grande River. Yet your open-border policies encourage migrants to risk their lives by crossing illegally through the water, instead of safely and legally at a port of entry,” Abbott wrote in a letter Monday.
The federal lawsuit contends the buoys — which are tethered to the riverbed floor and have netting and razor wires — violate the Rivers and Harbor Act, as it obstructs the navigability of this international waterway.
The civil lawsuit says construction approval was not received from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the agency along with other federal agencies “were deprived of the opportunity to evaluate risks the barrier poses to public safety and the environment.”
Laiken Jordahl, Southwest conservation advocate for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, says the buoys greatly threaten animal and wildlife on the river.
“We applaud the Biden administration for finally taking action against the deadly and destructive militarization of the Rio Grande,” Jordahl told Border Report on Tuesday. “The river is the lifeblood for communities and wildlife in the borderlands. We can’t let Gov. Abbott’s photo-op turn this peaceful river into a war zone. These death traps must be immediately removed from the Rio Grande.”
A species of rare mussels, which lives in the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, is being considered for federal protection, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Environmentalists say putting concrete pilings on the river floor could damage the mussels, which also live on the riverbed.
“We want the buoys & netting removed, the razor wire under the water & on the banks removed,” former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat from El Paso who unsuccessfully an against Abbott, tweeted.
On Friday, over 85 House Democrats — including all Texas Democrats and all who represent the Texas border — sent a letter to the Biden administration urging the president to intervene in Operation Lone Star.
“We urge you to assert your authority over federal immigration policy and foreign relations and investigate and pursue legal action, as appropriate, related to stop Governor Abbott’s dangerous and cruel actions,” they wrote. Among those who signed the letter included Gonzalez and U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar. Veronica Escobar and Joaquin Castro.
Gonzalez credited their actions with prompting the lawsuit.
“I was happy to learn that after the letter had been sent, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced their intention to sue the governor’s administration and asked for the removal of the barriers and netting along the Rio Grande river,” Gonzalez said.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, tweeted news of the DOJ lawsuit, calling it “rich,” and continued, “Biden Administration claims Texas needs federal authorization to defend its borders when Biden administration – whose job it is – refuses to do so.”
The Federation for American Immigration reform tweeted after the announcement of Monday’s lawsuit: “Illegal border crossings into the U.S. disrespect and violate American sovereignty- The purpose of the floating barriers is to do what the Biden administration has been refusing to do, secure the border and deter mass illegal migration.”