A federal judge in Texas on Wednesday ordered the state to remove buoys it set up in the Rio Grande to deter migration as part of its Operation Lone Star.
The order came as part of a lawsuit filed by the Biden administration against Texas, arguing in large part that the state had no right to install structures in federal navigable waterways.
“Governor [Greg] Abbott [R] announced that he was not ‘asking for permission’ for Operation Lone Star, the anti-immigration program under which Texas constructed the floating barrier,” District Judge David Alan Ezra wrote.
“Unfortunately for Texas, permission is exactly what federal law requires before installing obstructions in the nation’s navigable waters.”
Texas is ordered to remove the buoys by Sept. 15, but Abbott indicated just minutes after the ruling that the state plans to appeal the decision and will continue to use other “strategic barriers.”
The floating buoys cover 1,000 feet in the Rio Grande with anchors in the riverbed. They are arranged in a chain stretching up- and down-river, each separated by a rounded blade with serrated edges similar to a circular saw.
The buoys were put in place around July 10, installed just days after four migrants, including an infant, drowned trying to cross the river.
The installation was one of several measures taken by Abbott as part of Operation Lone Star, but it has proven the most controversial, creating significant tensions with Mexico.
Ezra noted Mexico’s formal diplomatic complaints on the matter in his decision as a factor in establishing the harm caused to the plaintiff justifying an injunction.
The ruling was deeply critical of Texas’s arguments to defend the installation, in particular the idea that the state is allowed any means to respond to any act it considers an “invasion.”
“And all Texas’s new argument does is ask the Court to take the additional step — beyond the nonjusticiable question of whether the federal government has failed to protect Texas from invasion — of sanctioning Texas’s assertion of plenary power to declare and respond to ‘all types of invasions, including invasions from non-state or quasistate actors,'” Ezra wrote.
“Under this logic, once Texas decides, in its sole discretion, that it has been invaded, it is subject to no oversight of its ‘chosen means of waging war.’ Such a claim is breathtaking.”
Abbott said Wednesday Texas would continue to use other shows of force at the border and criticized President Biden, claiming, “Texas is rightfully stepping up to do the job that he should have been doing all along.”
“This ruling is incorrect and will be overturned on appeal. We will continue to utilize every strategy to secure the border, including deploying Texas National Guard soldiers and Department of Public Safety troopers and installing strategic barriers,” Abbott said.
“Our battle to defend Texas’ sovereign authority to protect lives from the chaos caused by President Biden’s open border policies has only begun. Texas is prepared to take this fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The Department of Justice in late July had urged a judge to order the buoys removed within 10 days.
“Governor Abbott’s suggestion that Texas can violate the [Rivers and Harbors Act] in service of its own policy priorities inverts the Supremacy Clause and controverts Supreme Court precedent recognizing the federal government’s plenary power over immigration and foreign affairs,” the Justice Department wrote in the filing.
— Updated at 5:32 p.m.