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“Texas Has Flouted Federal Law”: Biden Administration Sues Over Dangerous, Inhumane, And Likely Unlawful Barrier In Rio Grande

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The Biden administration has made good on its threat to sue Texas over the dangerous and likely unlawful barrier installed in the Rio Grande as part of Republican Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star scheme. The Justice Department on Monday filed a complaint stating that officials placed the floating buoys in the international waterway without first seeking permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as required by law.

“We allege that Texas has flouted federal law by installing a barrier in the Rio Grande without obtaining the required federal authorization,” Associate U.S. Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement. “This floating barrier poses threats to navigation and public safety and presents humanitarian concerns.” The barriers increase the likelihood that migrants will drown, by either ensnaring migrants or forcing them into more dangerous parts of the river. The explosive report from the Houston Chronicle last week in part revealed that “razor wire-wrapped barrels” installed by Texas had horrifically caught a number of migrant children.

“Additionally, the presence of the floating barrier has prompted diplomatic protests by Mexico and risks damaging U.S. foreign policy,” Gupta continued. Earlier this month, Mexican official  Alicia Bárcena called the barriers “a violation of water treaties between the U.S. and Mexico,” The Texas Tribune reported

“The Justice Department is seeking an injunction to bar Texas from building additional barriers in the river and asking a court to order the state to take the existing barriers down at its own expense,” CNN said. But Abbott, who has based his Operation Lone Star scheme in part on supposed claims of law and order, is outright defying the federal government and refusing to remove the barriers. He’s instead pining for a legal fight. “Texas will see you in court, Mr. President,” he responded in a July 24 letter.

Abbott in the letter also shamelessly claimed that he “share[s] the humanitarian concerns” noted by the federal government, and that he doesn’t want “to see another death in the Rio Grande River.” If that were true, the barrier would have never gone up. Instead, Abbott wants another immigration-related court fight subsidized by state taxpayers

The possibly unlawful actions by Texas and subsequent federal response are reminiscent of another politically-motivated border stunt, American Immigration Council’s Aaron Reichlin-Melnick tweeted. It was just last year when former Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey installed his shipping container wall, stacked up on federal lands like some grotesque, white nationalist building blocks. Ducey plopped some of his eyesore in the Coronado National Forest, harming the precious wildlife that also call the borderlands their home.

Ducey built “several miles of shipping container wall on federal land—which was obviously illegal,” Reichlin-Melnick wrote. “When DOJ sued, like Abbott, he made a big show of ‘we’ll see you in court.’ After the election, AZ caved instantly and settled.” Like Abbott’s border schemes, Ducey stuck state taxpayers with the bill, both for erecting his so-called wall, and for bringing it down following federal intervention. The total bill? Possibly close to $200 million. For a public relations stunt that accomplished nothing.

Such political stunts hurt Texans, too. $4.5 billion could go a long way to help Texans struggling with power bills, housing, or food, but Gov. Abbott has instead wasted it on his Operation Lone Star stunt with not much to show for it. He also recently signed the “Death Star” bill, which will nullify local ordinances establishing water breaks for outdoor workers. Abbott might not be aware from his air-conditioned office, but Texas, like other regions in the nation, is experiencing scorching heat, and some workers have no choice but to work outside. 

Some are dying from it. In Florida, Efrain López García was one of two farmworkers to have lost their lives after working in recent extreme weather. “I was in Jacksonville when the person who was working with him called me and told me [Efraín] was ill and had apparently died after the heat,” his brother, Jeremías López García, said at a vigil organized by The Farmworker Association of Florida. “He was very friendly. Fun, a good person. When I was with him, we were happy.”

But while GOP governors with their eyes on higher office endanger working men and women, more than 110 lawmakers are urging the Biden administration “to create new federal rules to protect workers from heat-related injuries on the job,” The Daily Beast reported. Texas Rep. Greg Casar is a member of the coalition and is holding a “thirst strike” on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to call attention to the need for the Biden administration to act urgently for outdoor workers. Casar is joined by La Unión del Pueblo Entero, Texas AFL-CIO, and United Farm Workers cofounder Dolores Huerta. “Water is life,” the union rights icon said.

“Our climate is in crisis & workers in every state are dying from the heat,” Casar tweeted.  “@POTUS must create a federal heat rule and save lives — because #WorkersCantWait!” Supporters of outdoor workers are encouraged to sign the UFW petition urging the Department of Labor to implement heat rules immediately. “The men, women and children working in our fields can’t wait,” the petition said. Click here to read more about the UFW petition and sign.