By Kenny Stancil / Common Dreams
The U.S. Department of Justice has informed Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that it intends to file a lawsuit if he doesn’t commit to removing the life-threatening buoys his state troopers installed in the Rio Grande earlier this month.
In a Thursday letter addressed to Abbott and Texas Interim Attorney General Angela Colmenero (R), the DOJ said the state’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.” The DOJ said it plans to take legal action if Abbott does not indicate his “commitment to expeditiously remove the floating barrier and related structures” by 2:00 pm ET on Monday.
“The floating barrier at issue here is a structure that obstructs the navigable capacity of the Rio Grande River, which is a navigable water of the United States within the meaning of the Rivers and Harbors Act,” says the letter, written by U.S. Assistant Attorney General Todd Kimm and Jaime Esparza, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas. “Texas does not have authorization from the [Army Corps of Engineers] to install the floating barrier and did not seek such authorization before doing so.”
“Texas’ unauthorized construction of the floating barrier is a prima facie violation of the Rivers and Harbors Act,” it adds. “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.”
In response, Abbott claimed in a Friday tweet that “Texas has the sovereign authority to defend our border, under the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Constitution.”
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“We have sent the Biden administration numerous letters detailing our authority, including the one I hand-delivered to President [Joe] Biden earlier this year,” said Abbott. “We will see you in court, Mr. President.”
Through his so-called Operation Lone Star program, Abbott has in recent weeks escalated his deadly campaign to prevent immigrants from entering the United States. Texas’ GOP governor claims that his actions are a necessary response to Biden’s “open border policies,” even as rights groups have denounced Biden for perpetuating a slightly altered version of his xenophobic predecessor’s crackdown on asylum-seekers in what amounts to a bipartisan disregard for international human rights law.
Last week, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers and Texas National Guard members placed buoys in the Rio Grande near the Camino Real International Bridge in Eagle Pass despite a legal challengefrom a local resident. State troopers have also put up miles of razor wire on the banks of the river, ignoring objections from some private landowners.
Abbott’s deployment of buoys in the Rio Grande has elicited complaints from Mexico, which told the U.S. government in a diplomatic note last week that the floating barrier may violate 1944 and 1970 treaties on boundaries and water.
In addition, U.S. Border Patrol officials have issued internal warnings that the widespread use of razor wire is preventing their agents from reaching migrants in need of help and increasing the risk of drownings. Several people have died in recent weeks trying to cross the river.
The Biden administration has faced mounting pressure to respond to Abbott’s border militarization regime. Calls for federal intervention intensified this week after the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News reported that Texas state troopers were ordered on June 25 to push migrant children, including nursing infants and a four-year-old girl suffering from heat exhaustion, back into the Rio Grande.
The reporting was based on a July 3 email from a Texas DPS officer to a superior. In addition to revealing the aforementioned pushing orders, the officer wrote that state troopers were instructed to deny water to asylum-seekers amid a devastating heatwave. The officer also detailed a string of previously unreported incidents that occurred on June 30, including a pregnant woman getting caught in razor wire and having a miscarriage and a teenage boy breaking his leg after being forced to circumvent the wire.
As Texas Public Radioreported Friday, Abbott and the state are “facing a separate DOJ investigation” into the allegations outlined in the officer’s email.
Also on Friday, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) led 87 House Democrats in sending a letter urging the Biden administration to act decisively to put an end to Abbott’s “barbaric policies.”
“We write to express our profound alarm over border policies instituted by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that are putting asylum-seekers at serious risk of injury and death, interfering with federal immigration enforcement, infringing on private property rights, and violating U.S. treaty commitments with Mexico,” the letter says. “We urge you to assert your authority over federal immigration policy and foreign relations and investigate and pursue legal action, as appropriate, related to stop[ping] Gov. Abbott’s dangerous and cruel actions.”
Kenny Stancil is a staff writer for Common Dreams.