December 3, 2023

Appeals court orders dismantling of floating buoy barrier in Rio Grande

In a notable blow to Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's attempts to secure his state's border with Mexico, a federal appeals court on Friday ruled – in a decision penned by an appointee of President Joe Biden – that a series of floating buoys he had installed in the Rio Grande must be removed, as The Hill reports.

The decision was in keeping with a lower court ruling that found Abbott's buoy system to be a violation of laws governing navigable waterways and, therefore, impermissible.

Court orders buoy removal

As The Hill explains, the buoy system spanned roughly 1,000 feet in the Rio Grande and involved a linked system of barriers designed to dissuade those attempting to cross the often-dangerous waterway.

The Abbott-ordered buoys were installed this past July, shortly after several migrants perished while trying to traverse the river.

Judge Dana Douglas, the judge responsible for the written opinion ordering the removal, declared that they danger the buoys present to migrants “is supported by Texas's own statements noting the treachery of venturing across the Rio Grande.”

The bottom line, however, according to the court below as well as the appeals panel, is that while Abbott specifically stated that he was not asking for permission when he chose to install the barriers, permission is exactly what federal law requires before installing obstructions in the nation's navigable waters.”

Abbott responds

However, it did not take long for Abbott to respond with disappointment -- yet determination -- to the ruling, taking to X, formerly known as Twitter, to make his position on the matter known.

“The 5th Cir. Court of Appeals' denial of Texas' sovereign authority to secure the border with floating marine barriers is clearly wrong,” Abbott began.

He continued, “AG [Ken] Paxton & I will seek an immediate rehearing by the entire court. We'll got to SCOTUS if needed to protect Texas from Biden's open borders.”

Controversial approach

In addition to helping stem the tide of migrants attempting to enter Texas via the Rio Grande, Abbott's decision was, as his administration noted over the summer, borne out of concerns about the safety of those crossing under frequently hazardous conditions.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said at the time, “We don't want anybody to get hurt. In fact, we want to prevent people from getting hurt, prevent people from drowning,” noting his belief that the barrier system would further that objective.

However, almost immediately, legal challenges to the buoy system began to emerge from various corners, including those from groups worried about its environmental impact and those lodged by pro-immigrant advocacy organizations -- actions which have -- at least so far, won the battle, if perhaps not yet the war.

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