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Abbott’s Potentially Illegal Border War May be Breaking Federal Treaty Now

Greg Abbott sailed to a third term as Texas Governor thanks in part to his hardline anti-immigrant stance. He is increasing his actions with a new deterrent that is both dangerous and potentially causes the United States to violate a treaty with Mexico.

The plan: put buoyed barriers in the Rio Grande to prevent people from swimming across. As early as this week, Abbott will deploy a thousand feet of floating fence near Eagle Pass. The barrier includes webbing that will prevent people from swimming under it. The area already has razor wire on both shores, but still sees high levels of crossings.

The plan was formerly considered by the Trump Administration, who scrapped because of the risk of people drowning trying to cross. That sentiment was echoed by human rights groups.

“It is a monument to cruelty,” Amy Fischer, the director of refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International USA, told The Houston Chronicle. Fischer also pointed out that the barrier is unlikely to actually deterred migrants who have fled dangerous situations and made it as far as the river. It will simply make the final leg potentially fatal.

In addition to the danger, the plan violates a 1970 pact with Mexico regarding access to the river. According to the treaty, major changes to river access have to be signed off by both the federal government and Mexico leadership. The treaty covers the Rio Grande from El Paso to Brownsville. According to The Chronicle’s reporting, Abbott has not consulted with the International Boundary and Water Commission. The White House has also not commented on Abbott’s actions.

This is not the first time Abbott’s anti-immigrant actions have failed to meet legal standards. Federal judges have found that Abbott’s signature Operation Lone Star program violates federal management of the border. With the Texas Nation Guard essentially deployed to the border on a permanent, hostile basis, including tanks, it could be argued that Abbott is running an illegal border war.

Multiple lawsuits have tried to challenge the legality of Operation Lone Star, but few are willing to go all the way. There is a question whether human rights groups have standing.

Operation Lone Star does appear to violate a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that decided Arizona’s “papers please” law was an illegal action by the state that overrode federal authority. Thus far, the Biden Administration has been reticent to engage with Abbott as the country sees huge levels of migrant crossing to the anger of many conservatives.

If Abbott’s actions do put a formal treaty between the United States and Mexico in danger, the president may finally be forced to act.

Abbott’s border actions have already cost the state more than $4 billion and done little to slow immigration or drug and human trafficking, which is often used as justification for the operation. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has warned Abbott that he is treading on the federal government’s toes, but Abbott has persevered thanks to the political clout anti-immigration has gifted him. 

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.

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