Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will not order the floating barriers to be removed from the Rio Grande, in opposition to the US Department of Justice.
“Texas will fully exercise its constitutional authority to resolve the crisis you have caused,” Abbott wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden following the DOJ’s request last week to remove the barriers.
He added, “See you in Texas in court, Mr. President.”
The showdown between Abbott and the federal government comes as Texas’ treatment of migrants trying to cross the US illegally faces increased scrutiny. Biden administration officials have been increasingly concerned in recent months about Abbott’s measures, which have disrupted US Border Patrol operations in the region and put migrants at risk. A Homeland Security official told CNN last week that Abbott’s actions “made our job harder” as images of injured migrants and disturbing reports of Texas troops pushing migrants back into Mexico drew criticism from the White House and several Democratic lawmakers.
The Justice Department told Texas on Thursday that it intends to file legal action against the placement of floating barriers in the Rio Grande as part of the state’s operation along the Texas-Mexico border, according to familiar sources and a letter obtained by CNN. The Justice Department gave Texas a deadline of Monday at 2 p.m. ET to commit to removing the floating border barriers or face legal action, according to the letter sent to Abbott.
The Republican governor rejected the demands, saying, “I assert the ‘sovereign interest of Texas in protecting the [her] boundaries. I do this in my role as commander-in-chief of the militia of our State under Article IV, § 7 of the Texas Constitution.”
The White House responded to Abbott’s decision by denouncing his actions as “dangerous and unlawful.”
“Governor Abbott’s dangerous and unlawful actions undermine effective planning and make it difficult for the men and women of the Border Patrol to do their jobs to secure the border. The governor’s actions are cruel and put migrants and border agents at risk,” said White House spokesman Abdullah Hasan.
He added: “If Governor Abbott really wants to drive toward real solutions, he will ask his Republican colleagues in Congress, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, why they voted against President Biden’s request for record funding for the Department of Homeland Security and why they blocked comprehensive immigration reform and border security measures to finally fix our broken immigration system.
The Department of Justice’s threat of legal action on floating barriers is based on a clause in federal law that “prohibits the creation of anything obstructable to the navigable capacity of the waters of the United States, and further prohibits the construction of any structure in such waters without a permit from the United States Army Corps of Engineers.”
Texas is already facing a lawsuit against its installation of a marine floating barrier. The owner of a Texas canoe and kayaking company filed the lawsuit earlier this month on the same day that Texas began deploying buoys for the barrier. The suit names the state of Texas and Abbott, as well as the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard.
The dispute is separate from an ongoing investigation into the mistreatment of migrants, which the Justice Department described as “disturbing reports.”
The inspector general for the Texas Department of Public Safety has received several additional complaints from DPS personnel on the front lines of the border about the treatment of migrants trying to enter the United States, three sources familiar with the investigation told CNN. Among the complaints were reports that Texas soldiers were told to push the migrants back to the Rio Grande and were ordered not to give them water.
Abbott’s office denied that any orders had been issued that would “compromise the lives of those trying to cross the border illegally.”
This story has been updated with additional reporting.