A judge orders Texas to move a floating barrier used to deter migrants

A person appears next to a line of big orange buoys in water.
A kayaker walks past large buoys being used as a floating border barrier on the Rio Grande on Aug. 1, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)
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A federal judge on Wednesday ordered Texas to move a large floating barrier to the bank of the Rio Grande after protests from the the U.S. and Mexican governments over Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest tactic to stop migrants from crossing America’s southern border.

The decision by U.S. District Judge David Ezra is a victory for President Biden’s administration, which sued after Texas put the wrecking-ball-size buoys on the water in early July as part of a sprawling border security mission known as Operation Lone Star. The judge said the state must move the barrier by Sept. 15.

The barrier threatens provisions of a treaty between U.S. and Mexico, wrote Ezra, who also cast doubt on its effectiveness.


A U.S. judge is set to weigh whether Texas can keep its floating barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border as State Dept. testimony highlights the diplomatic stakes.

Aug. 22, 2023

“The State of Texas did not present any credible evidence that the buoy barrier as installed has significantly curtailed illegal immigration across the Rio Grande River,” Ezra wrote.

Abbott said Texas would appeal.

“Today’s court decision merely prolongs President Biden’s willful refusal to acknowledge that Texas is rightfully stepping up to do the job that he should have been doing all along,” Abbott said.

Texas used dozens of bright orange buoys to created a barrier longer than a soccer field on a stretch of river where migrants often try crossing from Mexico. Texas also has installed razor wire and steel fencing on the border, and has empowered armed officers to arrest migrants on trespassing charges.

The Justice Department is suing Republican Gov. Greg Abbott over a floating barrier Texas placed on the Rio Grande to stop migrants from entering the U.S.

July 24, 2023

The buoys brought a swift legal challenge from the U.S. Justice Department, which accused Texas putting a barrier on the international boundary without permission. The Biden administration also said the water barrier raised humanitarian and environmental concerns.

Texas installed the barrier near the border town of Eagle Pass and put anchors in the riverbed. Eagle Pass is part of a Border Patrol sector that has seen the second-highest number of migrant crossings this fiscal year, with about 270,000 encounters, though that is lower than it was at this time last year.

The Biden administration has said illegal border crossings declined after new immigration rules took effect in May as pandemic-related asylum restrictions expired.


Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is pushing legal boundaries on the Mexican border to install razor wire and deploy massive buoys on the Rio Grande.

July 24, 2023

Like other pieces of Abbott’s multibillion-dollar Operation Lone Star, the buoys pick up where former President Trump left off. Plans for the same water barrier were in the pipeline in 2020, said Mark Morgan, who at the time was the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Morgan said the plans were scrapped after Biden took office. He called the barrier a “water wall” and said it was intended to be used as a stopgap in sections of the border where fences were not yet built or were impractical.