DOJ sues Greg Abbott over "barbaric" Rio Grande buoy barrier

Rep. Joaquin Castro called the buoys state-sanctioned "drowning devices"

Published July 26, 2023 4:00AM (EDT)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference on October 17, 2022 in Beaumont, Texas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference on October 17, 2022 in Beaumont, Texas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

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The Department of Justice on Monday sued the state of Texas and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott over a buoy barrier installed in the Rio Grande along the U.S.-Mexican border that critics have called a deadly "drowning device."

The DOJ suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Texas, seeks an injunction to block the state from placing more of the wrecking ball-sized, razor wire-topped buoys, which have already reportedly injured several people. The complaint accuses Texas and Abbott of violating the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act by erecting the barrier in a U.S. waterway without permission.

"This floating barrier poses threats to navigation and public safety and presents humanitarian concerns," Associate U.S. Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement. "Additionally, the presence of the floating barrier has prompted diplomatic protests by Mexico and risks damaging U.S. foreign policy."

The lawsuit came on the same day that Abbott defiantly refused a DOJ request to dismantle the 1,000-foot barrier, which was installed along with netting and razor wire in and along the river that Mexicans call the Río Bravo near Eagle Pass in Maverick County.

"Texas will fully utilize its constitutional authority to deal with the crisis you have caused," Abbott wrote in a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden in response to the DOJ's request. "Texas will see you in court, Mr. President."

In a weekend CNN appearance, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, called Abbott's anti-migrant efforts "barbaric" and "extreme cruelty."

"For him, this isn't about border security—it's about using taxpayer money to feed red meat to right-wing extremists," Castro said of Abbott on Twitter.

In a separate interview on MSNBC, Castro called the buoys state-sanctioned "drowning devices," a description also given by others including former Democratic congressman Beto O'Rourke.

Recent weeks have seen an escalation of Abbott's Operation Lone Star, a campaign aimed at stopping asylum-seekers and other migrants from entering the United States.

Texas is investigating claims made by a whistleblower state trooper who said the barrier and razor wire have injured migrants, including a pregnant woman who had a miscarriage while ensnared in the wire, a 4-year-old girl who passed out from heat exhaustion after she was forced back into the river by Texas National Guard troops, and a teenager who broke his leg trying to circumvent the barrier.

Over the weekend, a fifth busload of migrants arrived in downtown Los Angeles from Texas, which along with Republican-run Florida and Arizona have been sending asylum-seekers to states with sanctuary immigration policies. Authorities in California and other states have accused Republican officials of lying to migrants, often with false promises of work or benefits, in order to get them on buses and planes.

The DOJ complaint is the second lawsuit filed over the Texas floating barrier. Earlier this month, Jesse Fuentes, owner of Epi's Canoe and Kayak Team, an Eagle Pass outfitter offering lessons and tours, sued claiming the buoys threaten his livelihood and the local ecosystem.

"It not only shuts my business down, but it shuts me down emotionally, spiritually," Fuentes told KENS. "I'm connected to that river. It's my culture, it's our history."

Fuentes added that Operation Lone Star and its attendant increase in border militarization have already harmed his business.

"Nobody wants to get close because, I mean, there's armed guards there under the bridge. They're in the water. They're in the air," he explained. "Not a very inviting environment. And that's not what I grew up with."

By Brett Wilkins

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