The US Department of Justice is suing the state of Texas for using floating barriers on the Rio Grande, which Governor Greg Abbott argued was intended to keep migrants from entering the state from Mexico.
The department is seeking a judicial injunction to prevent the construction of additional dams on the Texas River and is asking the court to order the state to remove existing dams at its own expense.
In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, the department accused Abbott of Texas and Republicans of violating the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act by building a structure in U.S. waters without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The lawsuit further alleges that the floating barriers “constitute an unauthorized obstruction of the navigability of waters of the United States.”
“We allege that Texas violated federal law by installing a dam on the Rio Grande,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement. “This floating embargo poses threats to navigation and public safety and presents humanitarian concerns. In addition, the existence of the floating embargo has fueled diplomatic protests by Mexico and risks undermining US foreign policy.
The lawsuit comes after Abbott said earlier Monday that he would not order the removal of floating barriers from the Rio Grande. In spite of Judicial request.
“Texas will fully exercise its constitutional authority to deal with the crisis you have caused,” Abbott wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden following last week’s DOJ request to lift the sanctions.
He added, “Texas will meet you in court, Mr. President.”
The Justice Department’s legal action on floating embankments is based on a section of federal law that “prohibits the construction of any obstruction to the navigability of waters of the United States, and the construction of any structure on such waters without the authorization of the United States Army Corps of Engineers.”
In an appearance on Fox News on Monday evening, Abbott said the rule does not apply but did not say why.
“The truth of the matter is that they are using some vague laws to prevent the continued use of those floats,” the governor said. “It’s not based on the law.”
The clash between Abbott and the federal government comes as Texas faces increased scrutiny over its treatment of immigrants trying to enter the United States illegally. Biden administration officials have become increasingly concerned in recent months about Abbott’s actions, which have disrupted U.S. Border Patrol operations in the region and put migrants at risk. A Homeland Security official told CNN last week that Abbott’s moves “make our job harder,” while images of injured migrants and alarming reports of Texas troops pushing migrants back into Mexico have drawn criticism from the White House and several Democratic lawmakers.
The Justice Department told Texas on Thursday it plans to file legal action against the placement of floating barriers in the Rio Grande as part of the state’s move along the Texas-Mexico border, according to sources familiar with the matter and a letter obtained by CNN. According to a letter to Abbott, the Justice Department gave Texas a deadline of 2 p.m. Monday to promise to remove the floating border barriers or face legal action.
The Republican governor pushed back on those demands, saying, “I asserted Texas’s ‘sovereign interest in protecting. [her] boundaries. I have done so in my role as commander of the militia of our state under Article IV, § 7 of the Texas Constitution.
Later Monday, White House press secretary Karin Jean-Pierre repeatedly slammed Abbott for what she called “dangerous and illegal” actions.
“We actually saw the president’s plan working, and what the governor is doing is dangerous and illegal,” Jean-Pierre told reporters on Monday. “It really affects the process. It affects the process of what we’re trying to do.
Later, Jean-Pierre said bluntly, “He’s really acting in bad faith.”
“Governor Abbott is not moving forward in good faith. He didn’t,” she said. “One person who is sowing confusion is Governor Abbott. That is where he continues to do political stunts in an inhumane manner,” he said.
Texas is already facing a lawsuit against the installation of an offshore floating ban. The owner of a Texas canoe and kayak company filed the lawsuit earlier this month on the same day Texas began using floats for the ban. The lawsuit names the state of Texas and Abbott, as well as the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard.
The Texas Department of Public Safety’s inspector general has received several additional complaints from DPS personnel at the border about the treatment of immigrants trying to enter the United States, three sources familiar with the investigation told CNN. Among the complaints were reports that Texas troops were ordered to push settlers into the Rio Grande and not give them water.
Abbott’s office has denied that any order was issued that would “compromise the lives of those trying to cross the border illegally.”
This story has been updated with additional reporting.