The Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit against the state of Texas on Monday over Governor Greg Abbott’s decision to install a 1,000-foot floating border barrier in the Rio Grande River near the city of Eagle Pass.
“We allege that Texas has flouted federal law by installing a barrier in the Rio Grande without obtaining the required federal authorisation,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement.
“This floating barrier poses threats to navigation and public safety and presents humanitarian concerns,” the official added. “Additionally, the presence of the floating barrier has prompted diplomatic protests by Mexico and risks damaging US foreign policy.”
The DoJ accused Texas of violating the Rivers and Harbors Act.
The Texas project is also facing a lawsuit in state court over the buoy barrier.
Last week, the federal government warned Texas it was considering taking legal action.
On Monday, the Texas governor wrote a letter to the White House saying he intends to fight the DoJ’s lawsuit.
“Texas will see you in court, Mr President,” the Republican governor wrote, adding, “All of this is happening because you have violated your constitutional obligation to defend the States against invasion through faithful execution of federal laws.”
White House spokesperson Abdullah Hasan told The Independent that the governor’s plan isn’t effectively combatting unauthorised immigration.
“Governor Abbott’s dangerous and unlawful actions are undermining that effective plan, making it hard for the men and women of Border Patrol to do their jobs of securing the border, and putting migrants and border agents in danger,” he said in a statement. “If Governor Abbott truly wanted to drive toward real solutions, he’d be asking his Republican colleagues in Congress why they voted against President Biden’s request to increase funding for the Department of Homeland Security and why they’re blocking the comprehensive immigration reform and border security measures that would finally fix our broken immigration system.”
In mid-July, Texas neared completion of a $1m, 1,000-foot wall of buoys and netting across the Rio Grande, claiming it would deter illegal immigration outside of ports of entry.
The effort has proved extremely controversial. In addition to warnings from the federal government, Mexico said it is investigating whether the wall violates international treaties surrounding the border.
The governor has also been sued by a local man named Jessie Fuentes, who argues the state has deprived him of his livelihood as a kayak guide and is acting outside of its authority over an international boundary line.
“You’ve taken a beautiful waterway and you’ve converted it into a war zone,” Mr Fuentes recently told The Independent.
The Texas governor’s Operation Lone Star mission at the border has faced internal and external criticism.
“It’s been proven time after time that these so-called prevention through deterrence strategies don’t work,” Fernando García of the Border Network for Human Rights told The Independent. “They have not stopped immigration flows, but what they have done is they have put immigrants at risk.”
In a series of emails shared with news outlets including The Independent, a border trooper described receiving orders to push exhausted migrants back into the river and to refrain from giving them water.
“We were given orders to push the people back into the water to go to Mexico. We decided that this was not the correct thing to do. With the very real potential of exhausted people drowning,” the trooper wrote.
The state has denied the orders took place.
The trooper also claimed that in recent weeks, the buildup at the border has caused numerous issues and injuries, including a teen mother who became trapped in razor wire at the border while having a miscarriage, a 15-year-old who broke his leg as he tried to find a way around the deterrence buoys, and a man who lacerated his leg while trying to rescue his child from razor wire placed on a buoy.
In the Texas governor’s letter to the president, he claimed that Mr Biden isn’t enforcing federal immigration law, and that if the president “truly care[s] about human life” he will “prohibit immigration between ports of entry” to stop “record-breaking” levels of illegal immigration.
This mischaracterises the Biden administration’s immigration policies, federal immigration law, and recent immigration trends.
Many migrants hope to claim asylum in the US, and asylum-seekers may request safe haven regardless of whether they present themselves at an official port of entry or to immigration officials once already inside the United States.
Immigrant advocates have criticised Mr Biden for sticking with many of the Trump administration’s harshest policies throughout much of his administration, including, until this March, the use of the Title 42 programme to turn away migrants en masse, claiming it was to limit the spread of Covid-19, even though international travelers entered the US throughout the pandemic without being screened for the disease.
The Biden administration has also been regulating the flow of asylum-seekers at ports of entry with a Border Patrol mobile phone app called CBP One, which critics say is similar to the Trump administration practice of “metering,” which drastically limited the number of asylum-seekers allowed into the US each day.
This spring, the White introduced other new iniaitives aimed at slowing migration to the US, including opening asylum screening centers in other Central and Latin American countries, and penalising those who illegally enter into the US or other countries before seeking refuge in America. Immigration numbers have plummeted in recent months since peaking in the winter.
Andrew Feinberg contributed reporting to this story.
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