Texas Gov. Greg Abbott defends buoys on the Rio Grande as Justice Department files lawsuit against him

‘Texas will see you in court, Mr. President,’ Biden says in letter to President Joe Biden

Gov. Greg Abbott answers questions from reporters during a Capitol bill-signing ceremony on June 6, 2023. (Joe Timmerman/The Texas Tribune, Joe Timmerman/The Texas Tribune)

SAN ANTONIO – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott defended the use of a floating barrier on the Rio Grande as the Justice Department filed a lawsuit Monday against the state after a deadline passed for their removal.

In a letter to President Joe Biden, Abbott said the U.S. Constitution gives Texas sovereign authority to protect its borders.

The buoys were the latest escalation of Abbott’s multibillion-dollar operation to secure the state’s 1,200-mile border with Mexico. They were placed earlier this month near Eagle Pass.

“If you truly care about human life, you must begin enforcing federal immigration laws,” Abbott said in the letter. “By doing so, you can help me stop migrants from wagering their lives in the waters of the Rio Grande River. You can also help me save Texans, and indeed all Americans, from deadly drugs like fentanyl, cartel violence, and the horrors of human trafficking.”

Abbott’s letter is in response to the Justice Department saying the wrecking ball-sized buoys violate federal law and raise humanitarian concerns for migrants crossing into the U.S. from Mexico.

In a letter dated Thursday, the Justice Department told Abbott that it intends to sue unless steps were made to remove the barriers by 1 p.m. Monday. The DOJ took legal action shortly after the deadline.

“The floating barrier poses a risk to navigation, as well as public safety, in the Rio Grande River, and it presents humanitarian concerns,” reads the letter.

Abbott, however, remained defiant on Monday.

“Texas will see you in court, Mr. President,” he wrote.

Read the letter below:

The mission known as Operation Lone Star came under new scrutiny after a trooper said migrants had been denied water and that orders were given to push asylum-seekers back into the Rio Grande.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said this week that the trooper's accounts, which were made in an email to a supervisor, are under internal investigation.

The buoy barrier covers 1,000 feet of the middle of the Rio Grande, with anchors in the riverbed.

Eagle Pass is part of a Border Patrol sector that has seen the second-highest number of migrant crossings this fiscal year with about 270,000 encounters — though that is lower than it was at this time last year.

The Biden administration has said illegal border crossings have declined significantly since new immigration rules took effect in May as pandemic-related asylum restrictions expired.

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About the Authors:

Rebecca Salinas joined KSAT in the fall of 2019. Her skills include content management, engagement and reporting.

David Ibañez has been managing editor of KSAT.com since the website's launch in October 2000.