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Appeals Court Tells Texas to Remove Anti-Migrant Razor Buoys From Rio Grande

The buoys are “only a fraction of Gov. Abbott’s racist and murderous Operation Lone Star,” noted immigrant advocates.

Buoy barriers are seen situated in the Rio Grande river on September 11, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas.

A federal appellate court panel on Friday delivered a blow to Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s anti-migrant regime, ruling 2-1 that the state must remove from the Rio Grande a buoy barrier intended to block people from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) sued Texas and Abbott over the buoys, which are part of the governor’s Operation Lone Star, in July. U.S. Judge David A. Ezra of the Western District of Texas, an appointee of former President Ronald Reagan, ordered the state to remove the barrier and prohibited new or additional blockades in September.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit initially blocked Ezra’s ruling while it considered the case, but Judges Dana Douglas and Carolyn Dineen King — respectively appointed by President Joe Biden and former President Jimmy Carter — affirmed his decision that the buoys violate federal law on Friday. Judge Don Willett, an appointee of ex-President Donald Trump, dissented.

The lower court “considered the threat to navigation and federal government operations on the Rio Grande, as well as the potential threat to human life the floating barrier created,” Douglas wrote for the majority. “All of the district court’s findings of fact were well supported by the record, and its conclusion… was not an abuse of discretion.”

American Immigration Council policy director Aaron Reichlin-Melnick suggested on social media that the case turned out the way it did, even though the 5th Circuit is the most conservative U.S. appeals court, “in part because the panel draw was a very good one for the DOJ.”

Abbott said Friday that the decision “is clearly wrong,” that he and GOP state Attorney General Ken Paxton “will seek an immediate rehearing by the entire court,” and that they will seek intervention from the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court “if needed.”‘

Despite the governor’s determination to continue the legal battle, opponents of 4-foot-wide orange spherical buoys — which span 1,000 feet of the river near Eagle Pass — celebrated the appeals court decision.

“I’ve seen Gov. Abbott’s border buoys for myself. They’re illegal and dangerous,” said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), who led a congressional trip to the barrier and a letter urging the Biden administration to act. “I applaud the Justice Department for today’s hard-fought victory in the conservative 5th Circuit and look forward to seeing these death traps removed from the Rio Grande.”

The immigrant youth-led group United We Dream also welcomed the “small victory” but stressed that “the razor buoys are only a fraction of Gov. Abbott’s racist and murderous Operation Lone Star,” pointing to a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report.

HRW revealed earlier this week that “dangerous chases of vehicles thought to contain migrants under the Texas government’s Operation Lone Star program led to crashes that killed at least 74 people and injured at least another 189 in a 29-month period.”

Alison Parker, HRW’s deputy U.S. director, declared that the state operation “is maximizing chaos, fear, and human rights abuses against Texans and migrants, which might be a cynical way to win political points but is not a responsible way to run a government.”

The report and ruling on Texas’ operation come as congressional Republicans attempt to force through what migrant rights advocates are calling “unconscionable” changes to asylum policy in exchange for funding for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.

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