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The DOJ is taking legal action over razor wire-topped floating border wall in Texas

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The Department of Justice sued Texas today over Governor Greg Abbott's controversial floating barrier in the Rio Grande. Abbott ordered the floating wall placed in the middle of the river separating the United States and Mexico to prevent migrants from illegally crossing into Texas. The DOJ says the barrier violates federal law and presents, quote, "serious risks to public safety and the environment." It is the latest development in a growing battle between Republican states and the federal government over border security and immigration.

Joining us now from San Antonio is reporter David Martin Davies of Texas Public Radio. Hi there.

DAVID MARTIN DAVIES, BYLINE: Howdy from Texas, Juana.

SUMMERS: So Dave, you have been down to Eagle Pass, where Texas has deployed these buoys. Tell us, what do they look like and what are the concerns about them?

DAVIES: Well, this is a thousand-foot string of large orange balls, each one of the size of a wrecking ball. And there are large weights anchoring them down right in the middle of the Rio Grande. And these balls are almost impossible to climb over. And we've been told that there's webbing under them so that you can't swim under them.

The concern is that people will get caught in that webbing, along with river debris, and that creates a hazard for the migrants. Governor Abbott said the purpose of the barrier is to keep people from crossing the river or to slow them down or also divert them to crossing where they can be more easily apprehended. And that's why Abbott says he wants to put miles and miles of these into the river.

SUMMERS: OK. San Antonio Congressman Joaquin Castro is a Democrat, and he called these buoys barbaric. And Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, says that's just not true. But is making the Rio Grande crossing more dangerous for migrants - is that a part of Abbott's strategy?

DAVIES: Well, Abbott says he's trying to prevent drownings. And members of the Border Patrol, the Texas troopers and the Texas National Guard have been saving migrants from drowning when they can. But it is also important to note that a recent email from a whistleblower emergency medical trooper in Eagle Pass, they allege - he alleges that Texas border agents were ordered to push migrants back into the river, including small children, and denying migrants water during the heat wave.

I've been covering the border since the late 1980s, and unfortunately, migrant drownings - it's always been part of the border. And then after crossing the river, there's the threat of migrants dying in the South Texas desert from thirst and incredible heat. So the possibility of death has always been used as a way to deter people from illegally coming into the country. And still they come. So it does look like the buoys are making the river more dangerous, and that's part of the federal government's argument against them.

SUMMERS: The Justice Department is taking legal action against this floating barrier and what it sees as Abbott's increasingly aggressive border actions. That's something the governor calls Operation Lone Star. But, I mean, just looking at this, it seems like Abbott perhaps wants this fight with the Biden administration.

DAVIES: Yeah. The deadline that Washington had to remove the buoys, that came and went today. They're still in the water. A judge is going to have to decide if those buoys need to come out of the Rio Grande. So the issue is this is the river that separates the United States and Texas from Mexico. But Abbott is declaring an emergency, and he wants to assert that it's the border of Texas first and the U.S. second. So he says Texas should have operational control of the border in confronting illegal immigration. But the courts have ruled in the past that this is the federal government's responsibility, that Abbott counters, saying, you know, the federal government isn't doing its job.

However, there's no evidence that Abbott's Operation Lone Star is providing any additional border protection that we don't already have with the U.S. Border Patrol. Abbott is clearly focusing attention on elevating a wedge issue that the Republican Party thinks gets them votes. And the GOP talking point that the border is wide open just is totally false.

SUMMERS: Texas Public Radio's David Martin Davies in San Antonio. Thanks.

DAVIES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Martin Davies
David Martin Davies is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience covering Texas, the border and Mexico.