DOJ sues Texas, Abbott over 'unauthorized' anti-migration barriers in Rio Grande

The governor had told the government: "Texas will see you in court."

July 24, 2023, 6:33 PM

The Department of Justice on Monday sued the state of Texas and Gov. Greg Abbott over the installation of a barrier of buoys in the Rio Grande River intended to keep migrants from crossing into the U.S.

The DOJ based its lawsuit on allegations that in building the buoy barrier, Texas violated the Rivers and Harbors Act by obstructing navigable waters of the U.S.

Texas officials began constructing the barrier near the Camino Real International Bridge in Eagle Pass earlier this month, finishing last week, according to the DOJ lawsuit.

Federal officials are asking a judge to order that Texas remove the existing buoys at their own expense and also that they be enjoined from constructing any further barriers in other waters near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Abbott and the state of Texas allegedly did not seek authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prior to installing the buoys, as required under law, and that because of that, "the Corps and other relevant federal agencies were deprived of the opportunity to evaluate risks the barrier poses to public safety and the environment, mitigate those risks as necessary through the permitting process, and otherwise evaluate whether the project is in the public interest," the DOJ lawsuit alleges.

The buoys are part of Operation Lone Star, Abbott's major border policy.

Buoy barriers are installed and situated in the middle of the Rio Grande river on July 18, 2023 in Eagle Pass, Texas.
Brandon Bell/Getty Images

"This floating barrier poses threats to navigation and public safety and presents humanitarian concerns. Additionally, the presence of the floating barrier has prompted diplomatic protests by Mexico and risks damaging U.S. foreign policy," Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement on Monday.

A judge from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas had not yet been assigned to the case as of Monday afternoon.

It was not immediately clear how soon until Texas has to answer the allegations in court. Abbott's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a letter on Friday, the DOJ had warned the governor that Texas' "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."

On Monday, Abbott responded with a letter to President Joe Biden remaining defiant -- and indicating his state's defense will hinge on what he describes as Texas' "sovereign authority" to protect its borders.

"Texas will see you in court, Mr. President," Abbott wrote, hours before the DOJ announced its suit.

A general drone view of the buoy barriers installed and situated in the middle of the Rio Grande river on July 18, 2023 in Eagle Pass, Texas.
Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Abbott, a Republican, has long assailed what he calls the failure of the Biden administration's border and immigration policies. He's also been busing migrants out of Texas to Democratic-led states and cities -- a move that has stoked outcry from advocates.

On Friday, the governor said in a statement that his administration, along with Texas' Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard, are "continuing to work together to secure the border; stop the smuggling of drugs, weapons, and people into Texas; and prevent, detect, and interdict transnational criminal behavior between ports of entry," citing statistics on hundreds of thousands of apprehensions and criminal arrests made under Operation Lone Star.

Responding to the DOJ lawsuit on Monday, White House spokesman Abdullah Hasan, said, in part: "Governor Abbott's dangerous and unlawful actions are undermining that effective plan, making it hard for the men and women of Border Patrol to do their jobs of securing the border, and putting migrants and border agents in danger."

ABC News' Luke Barr, Armando Garcia and Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.

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