Judge orders Texas to remove floating barriers in Rio Grande

September 7, 2023

Judge David Alan Ezra of the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Texas has ordered officials in that state to remove floating barriers in the Rio Grande.

Ezra ruled Wednesday that the barriers must be removed by September 15 at the Texas government’s expense.

The judge presided over a lawsuit  brought by the Department of Justice last month over the barriers, which was erected in the Rio Grande River to prevent migrants from illegal crossings.

The lawsuit followed the revelation of an email shared with the media by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), in which a state trooper accused authorities of authorizing inhumane treatment of migrants attempting to cross the Texas-Mexico border.

Numerous migrants have been injured by the barriers as well as on razor wire Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered placed in the riverbank as part of his Operation Lone Star, a series of border security measures announced in 2021 that included sending state troopers and National Guard members to the border to deter or arrest migrants attempting to cross the Rio Grande.

Close-up video posted by Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) last month further shows that the Rio Grande barriers also include circular saw blades.

Also in August, Mexican officials said they found two bodies floating in the Rio Grande, including one along the floating barrier—though Texas DPS pushed back, asserting that the migrant had died elsewhere and floated toward the barrier.

Judge Ezra wrote in his order that the law dictated that Abbott needed permission before installing the barriers.

“Governor Abbott announced that he was not ‘asking for permission’ for Operation Lone Star, the anti-immigration program under which Texas constructed the floating barrier. Unfortunately for Texas, permission is exactly what federal law requires before installing obstructions in the nation’s navigable waters,” Ezra wrote.

The DOJ had sued Texas under the federal law called the Rivers and Harbors Act, which “prohibits the creation of any obstruction to the navigable capacity of waters of the United States, and further prohibits building any structure in such waters without authorization from the United States Army Corps of Engineers.”

The judge found “unconvincing” the state’s argument that the barriers had been put in place as a matter of self-defense against invasion.

Texas quickly appealed the judge’s order. 

“This ruling is incorrect and will be overturned on appeal. We will continue to utilize every strategy to secure the border, including deploying Texas National Guard soldiers and Department of Public Safety troopers and installing strategic barriers,” Abbott’s office said in a statement, adding that the state “is prepared to take this fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Meanwhile, the state is also facing another lawsuit over the barriers, which was brought by the owner of a Texas canoe and kayaking company that operates on the Rio Grande. 

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