Justice Department plans to sue Texas over floating barrier in Rio Grande

‘This floating barrier poses a risk to navigation, as well as public safety, in the Rio Grande River, and it presents humanitarian concerns,’ the Justice Department says.

Migrants walk by a string of buoys placed by Texas in the Rio Grande.
Migrants walk by a string of buoys placed by Texas in the Rio Grande.
(Suzanne Cordeiro / AFP via Getty Images)

The U.S. Department of Justice intends to sue Texas over the placement of a floating buoy barrier in the Rio Grande that Gov. Greg Abbott deployed to impede migrants from crossing the river from Mexico into Texas, according to news outlets, including the Houston Chronicle.

The Justice Department sent Abbott a letter on Thursday regarding the barrier.

“The State of Texas’s 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,” according to the letter, which was published in full by the Washington Post.

Assistant Atty. Gen. Todd Kim and U.S. Atty. for the Western District of Texas Jaime Esparza wrote that the floating barrier violates the Rivers and Harbors Act that “prohibits the creation of any obstruction to the navigable capacity of waters of the United States.”

They also noted that the barrier requires authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


In response, Abbott took to Twitter on Friday and said Texas “has the sovereign authority to defend our border, under the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Constitution.”

Abbott went on to say that he has sent the Biden administration “numerous letters detailing our authority.”

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director of the American Immigration Council, said Abbott is wrong, detailing on Twitter that the U.S. Constitution “does not give states the authority to carry out immigration enforcement at the border.”

“Nothing in the Constitution says anything like that, which is probably why the Biden administration has ignored any letters claiming otherwise,” Reichlin-Melnick said.

Reichlin-Melnick added that buoys were considered by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2020 and rejected “because of the increased risk of drowning they posed, as well as the dangers they would cause rescuers trying to navigate around them.”

Asylum-seekers attempting to cross the Rio Grande into the United States
Asylum-seekers look over the floating barrier placed by Texas as they attempt to cross the Rio Grande into the United States.
(Brandon Bell / Getty Images)

News of the impending lawsuit comes after the Houston Chronicle first reported that troopers at the Texas border were ordered to push children back into the Rio Grande and failed to provide water to asylum-seekers in extreme heat conditions, according to an email sent by a Department of Public Safety trooper.

These incidents coincide with Abbott’s push for intense border security efforts through his Operation Lone Star initiative.

The email, which was sent to a superior and shared by a confidential source, documented several situations the trooper had witnessed in Eagle Pass, Texas, where some of Abbott’s most aggressive efforts are being implemented.

The barrier in question was placed on or before July 12 this year in the Rio Grande near the Camino Real International Bridge in Eagle Pass, according to the Department of Justice’s letter.

“This floating barrier poses a risk to navigation, as well as public safety, in the Rio Grande River, and it presents humanitarian concerns,” the letter reads. “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.”

Kim and Esparza gave Abbott until July 24 to respond and commit to “expeditiously remove the floating barrier and related structures.”


If that does not happen, “the United States intends to file legal action,” according to the letter.

Abbott remained steadfast.

“Texas is stepping up to address this crisis,” he said. “We will continue to deploy every strategy to protect Texans and Americans — and the migrants risking their lives. We will see you in court, Mr. President.”