A U.S. appeals court has mandated that Texas dismantle a 1,000-foot-long floating barrier installed in the Rio Grande to impede illegal border crossings, marking a legal triumph for President Joe Biden’s administration. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New Orleans, voted 2-1 against Texas’s plea to overturn a federal judge’s directive to relocate the line of buoys established near Eagle Pass, Texas, in July.
The court reasoned that the shallow waters where the buoys were deployed are navigable, triggering a requirement under U.S. environmental law for Texas to obtain approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before installation. The administration has consistently argued that the barrier hinders navigation and raises humanitarian concerns.
Following the administration’s lawsuit against Texas in July, U.S. District Court Judge David Ezra instructed state officials to relocate the buoys to a U.S. riverbank pending the litigation’s resolution. This decision was upheld by the 5th Circuit on Friday, dealing a blow to Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who has criticized Biden for perceived leniency on border security amid a surge in illegal crossings.
While Governor Abbott may seek a review from the full 5th Circuit, Judge Don Willett, a Trump appointee, dissented from his colleagues, emphasizing that the portion of the Rio Grande housing the buoys was not navigable and unfit for commercial traffic.
Neither Abbott’s office nor the U.S. Justice Department immediately responded to requests for comments on the court’s decision. The floating barrier is one of Abbott’s strategies to deter river crossings, alongside the placement of razor wire along the riverbank. A recent attempt by Texas to prevent federal immigration authorities from removing the wire fencing was rejected by a federal judge on Thursday.
Criticism from Republican-led states, including Texas, has been directed at the Biden administration’s immigration and border policies. Notably, on October 6, the administration announced plans to expand sections of a border wall, signaling a shift in policy to address the influx of migrants from Mexico, a move aligning with a signature approach of former President Donald Trump.