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The U.S. Justice Department announced Monday it is suing Texas and Gov. Greg Abbott after the state declined to remove the floating barrier deployed earlier this month on the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass.
The lawsuit, filed in an Austin federal court, alleges the barrier was installed without necessary authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“Because Texas installed the Floating Barrier without seeking the Corps’ authorization, the Corps and other relevant federal agencies were deprived of the opportunity to evaluate risks the barrier poses to public safety and the environment, mitigate those risks as necessary through the permitting process, and otherwise evaluate whether the project is in the public interest,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit also alleges that the floating barrier obstructs navigation on the river and demands that the state remove the barrier.
“President Biden’s border enforcement plan has led to the lowest levels of unlawful border crossings in over two years," White House spokesperson Abdullah Hasan said in a written statement. "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.”
Last week, the Justice Department sent a letter threatening legal action against the state if it did not respond with a commitment to remove the barrier by 1 p.m. Central time on Monday. Abbott responded with a letter to President Joe Biden on Monday morning committing to keep the barrier in place.
Abbott defended his decision to do so as the “commander-in-chief of our State’s militia” and blamed the Biden administration’s immigration policy for the conditions at the border.
“It has been under your watch that migrants have suffered an unprecedented crisis of inhumanity,” Abbott said in the letter to Biden. “If you truly care about human life, you must begin enforcing federal immigration laws.”
Hours after the lawsuit was filed, Abbott took to Twitter saying, “Texas will see the Biden Administration in court to aggressively defend our sovereign authority to secure the border. Biden’s open border policies created this humanitarian disaster. Texas will continue to exercise our constitutional right to respond,” accompanied by video of him on Fox News discussing the case.
Abbott’s office didn’t immediately respond to an email from The Texas Tribune seeking comment.
Texas elected officials took to Twitter with reactions to the news. U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, tweeted: “Pound sand,” to express his displeasure with the Justice Department's lawsuit, while U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, tweeted: “Glad to see the Department of Justice take legal action to get @GovAbbott's death traps out of the Rio Grande. Abbott's barbaric actions are a clear abuse of power that have put lives at risk, and @POTUS must directly condemn this political stunt.”
The controversial barrier, accompanied by rows of razor wire, was deployed by the state earlier this month as part of Operation Lone Star, an aggressive state border security initiative launched in March 2021, shortly after Biden took office. Under the operation, Abbott has sent hundreds of Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and the Texas National Guard to the border and has paid to bus thousands of migrants from Texas to Democrat-run cities around the U.S.
The Justice Department lawsuit was preceded by a diplomatic complaint about the barrier from the Mexican government and a lawsuit filed by an Eagle Pass kayaking business.
It also comes nearly a week after the Houston Chronicle reported a series of allegations from a state trooper who complained to a superior in an email that a DPS official in Eagle Pass ordered troopers to push migrants — including small children and mothers with nursing babies — back into the Rio Grande. DPS says it is investigating these claims.
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