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Abbott Says He’ll Defy Fed Order to Remove Barbed Wire Barriers on Rio Grande

“The State of Texas’ actions violate federal law [and] raise humanitarian concerns,” the Justice Department said.

Migrants walk by a string of buoys placed on the water along the Rio Grande border with Mexico in Eagle Pass, Texas, on July 15, 2023.

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has indicated that he will defy an order from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to remove barbed wire buoy barriers in the Rio Grande, an action that has prompted a federal lawsuit against him and other Texas officials.

The barriers are part of Abbott’s so-called “Operation Lone Star” program, which seeks to deter migrants from entering the U.S. through the Texas-Mexico border. In a letter sent by the DOJ to Abbott’s office last week, the department warned that it would sue Texas if the barriers were not removed by Monday.

Over the weekend and on Monday, Abbott indicated that he would not be removing the barriers, leading the DOJ to file a lawsuit in federal district court in Austin late Monday afternoon.

Miles of these connected buoys, which have barbed wire attached to them, are on the river near Eagle Pass, Texas, where the second-highest number of migrant crossings have occurred over the past year. So far during Operation Lone Star, the site has seen a plethora of abuses against migrants, including children, as evidenced in a letter from a state Department of Public Safety trooper to his superiors last month.

That letter cited a number of disturbing incidents, including direct orders to troopers to physically harm migrants. It also detailed how a woman experiencing a miscarriage was caught in barbed wire near the border in June, and how a 4-year-old girl passed out due to heat exhaustion as she had tried to cross the barrier but was pushed back by a Texas National Guard soldier.

Other incidents recounted in the letter include a teen boy breaking his leg trying to navigate around the buoys, and an increase in the number of drownings in the area as a result of the buoys.

In the DOJ’s letter to Abbott last week, the department said that a lawsuit was imminent if the governor didn’t immediately order the removal of the buoys.

“The State of Texas’ 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 Justice Department letter stated.

“Texas does not have authorization from the Corps [of Engineers] to install the floating barrier and did not seek such authorization before doing so,” the department went on.

The letter continued:

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.

Abbott indicated late last week that he wouldn’t abide by the DOJ’s demands. “Texas has the sovereign authority to defend our border,” he claimed in a post on Twitter.

He repeated that sentiment on Monday, stating in a letter addressed to President Joe Biden that “Texas will fully utilize its constitutional authority” to address the migration crisis, which Abbott blamed Biden for creating.

“Texas will see you in court, Mr. President,” Abbott added.

The White House condemned Abbott’s defiance.

“The governor’s actions are cruel and putting both migrants and border agents in danger,” said White House spokesperson Abdullah Hasan.

Experts have denounced the actions of Abbott and Operation Lone Star agents as illegal and in violation of international law. Before the DOJ sent its letter to Abbott last week, the State Department had made several requests to inspect the barbed wire blockade but was ignored by the Abbott administration. Mexican officials have also condemned Abbott’s actions as inhumane and illegal.

Several lawmakers and activists have decried Abott’s policies.

“This is absolutely monstrous, inhumane policy,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas).

“The Biden administration needs to step in and put an end to this brutality being waged by the state of Texas against human beings,” progressive activist Robert Cruickshank wrote on Twitter.

Vanessa Cárdenas, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrants’ rights organization, called the actions by Abbott “wasteful” and “dehumanizing,” noting that such measures were driven by “ugly political incentives.”

“As a nation, we should never accept the notion that the only way to manage migration is by cruelty,” Cárdenas said, adding that Biden “should step up its condemnation of shameful GOP attacks on immigrants.”

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