In a recent legal showdown, a federal judge presiding over the U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit against Texas is seeking the immediate removal of existing buoys and a ban on placing any more in the Rio Grande.
U.S. District Judge David Ezra dismissed Texas’ assertion that Gov. Greg Abbott had the right to place these buoys due to a perceived migrant “invasion,” stating firmly that the court wouldn’t delve into political questions, as reported by The Dallas Morning News.
The U.S. Justice Department first took legal action on July 24, suing the state of Texas and Gov. Abbott for installing floating barriers in the Rio Grande River to stop migrants crossing from Mexico, alleging the barrier was installed without necessary authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The lawsuit also alleges that Texas disregarded federal permitting requirements before installing the floating barrier that obstructs navigation on the river, according to the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899.
One key defense presented by Texas was that they had the authority to defend their sovereignty under the U.S. Constitution, citing an “invasion” by migrants and drug smugglers as justification for the buoys.
However, Judge Ezra appeared unswayed by this argument, emphasizing that the court’s focus was on determining whether the buoys constituted a barrier to navigation in a navigable waterway, as opposed to wading into the broader issue of states enforcing federal immigration law.
On a related note, a U.S. State Department official testified that the buoys could negatively impact the U.S.-Mexico relationship.
Two weeks ago, Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Secretary Alicia Bárcena called out Texas for installing its anti-migrant buoys on her country’s side of the Rio Grande, and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador had discussed the issue six times during his daily press conferences since late June.
“What we’re talking about is a very delicate situation on the border, at the Rio Grande — Rio Bravo as we call it,” Foreign Minister Alicia Bárcena told reporters at the State Department at a joint news conference with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “Most of the buoys are on the Mexican side.”
After a recent survey by the binational agency overseeing the Rio Grande River unveiled that 80% of anti-migrant buoys set up by Texas were situated on the Mexican side of the border, Texas quietly relocated them.
Gov. Abbott then claimed that the barrier had “drifted,” though the survey also revealed that most of the concrete anchors were also on the Mexican side.
Judge Ezra, appointed by former President Ronald Reagan, did not immediately rule on the department’s request for a preliminary injunction to remove the roughly 1,000 feet of buoys. A final ruling is not anticipated before next week, as both parties have until Friday afternoon to submit written closing arguments.
According to The Dallas Morning News, in court, Loren Flossman, an employee with buoy vendor Cochrane USA, questioned the accuracy of the commission’s survey. Cochrane had mapped out the river area before buoy installation, placing them on the U.S. side, according to Flossman.
Removing the buoys, he testified, would take approximately three weeks, while the Justice Department is pushing for their removal in just 10 days.