By Jack Phillips
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday said he would defy a Department of Justice (DOJ) request to remove inflatable, floating barriers in the Rio Grande and suggested he would fight the DOJ in court.
“Texas will fully utilize its constitutional authority to deal with the crisis you have caused,” Mr. Abbott, a Republican, wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden after the DOJ’s request to remove the barriers along the river, which forms the border between Mexico and Texas. “Texas will see you in court, Mr. President.”
Several days ago, the DOJ sent Texas a letter notifying Mr. Abbott that the agency would sue the state for allegedly violating federal immigration law. There were reports that the Biden administration, namely, gave the Abbott administration a deadline of Monday at 2 p.m. ET to commit to the removal of the border barriers or face a lawsuit, according to the letter.
The White House on Monday responded to Mr. Abbott’s latest statement, saying that his defiance is “dangerous and unlawful.”
“Governor Abbott’s dangerous and unlawful actions are undermining that effective plan and making it hard for the men and women of Border Patrol to do their jobs of securing the border. The governor’s actions are cruel and putting both migrants and border agents in danger,” White House spokesman Abdullah Hasan said Monday, according to media reports.
Hasan added that if Texas “truly wanted to drive toward real solutions, he’d be asking his Republican colleagues in Congress, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, why they voted against President Biden’s request for record funding for the Department of Homeland Security and why they’re blocking comprehensive immigration reform and border security measures to finally fix our broken immigration system.”
And in its letter, the DOJ claims Mr. Abbott violated the federal Rivers and Harbors Act, which requires only the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ approval before barriers can be erected on navigable waterways in the United States. It said that Mr. Abbott and the Texas Department of Public Safety both did not obtain approval from the Corps of Engineers beforehand.
“This floating barrier poses a risk to navigation, as well as public safety, in the Rio Grande River, and it presents humanitarian concerns,” last week’s letter said, according to multiple news reports. “Thus, we intend to seek appropriate legal remedies, which may include seeking injunctive relief requiring the removal of obstructions or other structures in the Rio Grande River.”
Mexico’s government also filed a complaint and claimed that Mr. Abbott’s deployment of buoys is a violation of water treaties between the United States and Mexico. Mexico’s incoming secretary of foreign affairs, Alicia Bárcena, told Reuters that a diplomatic letter of complaint was submitted in late June.
But Mr. Abbott has said that under the U.S. and Texas constitutions, his administration has the authority to defend the U.S. border.
“Texas has the sovereign authority to defend our border, under the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Constitution,” he wrote 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.”
At the same time, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said last month at a news conference that would-be illegal immigrants face significant danger when they try to cross the Rio Grande. The buoys are designed to mitigate that threat.
“Anytime they get in that water, it’s a risk to the migrants. This is the deterrent from even coming in the water,” he said.
Around the Fourth of July holiday, four people, including an infant, drowned near Eagle Pass as they attempted to cross the Rio Grande, officials said.
The federal International Boundary and Water Commission, whose jurisdiction includes boundary demarcation and overseeing U.S.–Mexico treaties, said it didn’t get a heads-up from Texas about the proposed floating barrier.
“We are studying what Texas is publicly proposing to determine whether and how this impacts our mission to carry out treaties between the U.S. and Mexico regarding border delineation, flood control, and water distribution, which includes the Rio Grande,” Frank Fisher, a spokesperson for the commission, said in a statement.
It comes as border crossing dynamics shifted in May after the Biden administration stopped implementing Title 42, a pandemic-era public health policy that turned many illegal immigrants. New rules allowed people to seek asylum through a government application and set up appointments at the ports of entry, though the maximum allowed in per day is set at 1,450. The Texas governor’s policies target the many who are frustrated with the cap and cross illegally through the river.
Earlier iterations of Abbott’s border mission have included installing miles of wire at popular crossing points on the river and creating state checkpoints beyond federal stops to inspect incoming commercial traffic.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.