US Justice Department sues Texas governor after he defies Biden administration

US Justice Department sues Texas governor after he defies Biden administration

Lawsuit brought in district court alleges large buoys erected by Texas in Rio Grande were installed without approval

By Darren Lyn

HOUSTON, US (AA) - The Justice Department sued Texas Gov. Greg Abbott after he defied a Biden administration threat of legal action if his state did not take down floating river barriers along the US-Mexico border by a Monday afternoon deadline.

The department's lawsuit, brought in federal district court, alleges that the large buoys erected by Abbott in the Rio Grande River were installed without required authorization from the US Army Corps of Engineers, creating an obstruction in the waterway that separates the US from Mexico in violation of American law.

The suit seeks to have the buoys and related infrastructure removed from the site, which is located near Eagle Pass, the border town that sits adjacent to the Mexican city of Piedras Negras. The removal should be conducted at Texas' expense, government lawyers say in the court filing.

Abbott earlier sent a letter to President Joe Biden announcing that he would not comply with the Justice Department's Monday afternoon deadline to remove the buoys.

"All of this is happening because you have violated your constitutional obligation to defend the States against invasion through faithful execution of federal laws," Abbott said.

The river barriers were put together earlier in July as part of the state's border initiative called Operation Lone Star to repel migrant crossings. A report by a state trooper detailing the operation alleged that the floating barriers forced migrants to cross into the US through parts of the Rio Grande River where they are more likely to drown.

The White House has called Abbott's actions "cruel" and counterproductive, saying the river barriers have increased the risk of migrants drowning and obstructed Border Patrol agents from patrolling the river.

Last week, Justice Department lawyers informed Abbott that they would file a lawsuit against Texas unless the state removed the barriers.

"While I share the humanitarian concerns noted in your lawyers’ letter, Mr. President, your finger points in the wrong direction," Abbott continued in his letter. "Neither of us wants to see another death in the Rio Grande River. Yet your open-border policies encourage migrants to risk their lives by crossing illegally through the water, instead of safely and legally at a port of entry. Nobody drowns on a bridge."

Other parts of Operation Lone Star have included busing thousands of migrants to large Democratic-led cities such as Chicago and New York as well as Washington, D.C., directing state troopers to arrest migrants on state trespassing charges and deploying the Texas National Guard to repel migrants through methods such as razor wire. All of these methods have been a pushback by Abbott in his criticism of Biden's immigration policies.

"The fact is, if you would just enforce the immigration laws Congress already has on the books, America would not be suffering from your record-breaking level of illegal immigration," said Abbott. "If you truly care about human life, you must begin enforcing federal immigration laws."

The Biden administration argued the river barriers violate a federal navigable waters law, pose humanitarian challenges and impede federal law enforcement from apprehending migrants.

However, Abbott emphasized that to end the risk of migrants being harmed crossing the border illegally, the Biden administration must fully enforce the laws prohibiting illegal immigration between ports of entry. The governor also stressed that Texas will fully utilize its constitutional authority to deal with the border crisis.​​​​​​​

*Michael Hernandez in Washington contributed to this story

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