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Texas Judge Rules Against Abbott’s Floating Saw Blade Barrier, Rebukes “Invasion” Legal Theory As “Breathtaking”

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A federal judge in Austin ruled this week that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott must remove his dangerous and inhumane floating saw blade barrier from the Rio Grande, “concluding that it was an impediment to navigation on the river and a ‘threat to human life,’” The New York Times reports. The barrier had been installed as part of his multi-billion dollar border operation proclaiming to trump federal immigration policy, a false belief that was swiftly rebuked in court.

“Governor Abbott announced that he was not ‘asking for permission’ for Operation Lone Star, the anti-immigration program under which Texas constructed the floating barrier,” U.S. District Judge David Ezra said in his preliminary injunction. “Unfortunately for Texas, permission is exactly what federal law requires before installing obstructions in the nation’s navigable waters.”

For some time, the barrier had actually been in Mexican territory, in violation of Mexico’s sovereignty and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In fact, just 208 feet of the nearly 800 foot long barrier had been in U.S. territory, the Associated Press had reported. Texas eventually scrambled to reposition the barrier closer to the U.S. side, not out of any respect for the law, but because the state and federal government were set to go to court. Thankfully, that ploy didn’t work with Judge Ezra, either.

The court further found that Texas “did not present any credible evidence that the buoy barrier as installed has significantly curtailed illegal immigration across the Rio Grande River.” We already knew that these floating saw blades were not only a policy sham, but a policy sham with dangerous consequences. The barrier hasn’t stopped migrants, “but it has redirected them to more dangerous points on the river,” as The Wall Street Journal previously reported

While we can celebrate Judge Ezra’s well-reasoned decision, Abbott has already taken the case back to his anti-immigrant pipeline by immediately filing an appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. For years, Abbott and impeached Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have built and perfected that anti-immigrant judicial pipeline, which runs from the courtrooms of Trump-appointed U.S. district judges in Texas who they know are on their team, through the ultra-extreme (though friendly to them) Fifth Circuit, then straight into the right-wing Supreme Court.

While this nativist pipeline has produced results for Abbott and Paxton in the past, they weren’t able to forum shop for a friendly judge because the Biden administration filed its lawsuit in Austin (where it should have been filed). What happened in this case is that a federal judge carefully applied the law to the fact – something Abbott and Paxton are not used to. That’s why the judge enjoined Texas’s cruel, life-threatening scheme. It’s also why Abbott is sprinting to the Fifth Circuit to find judges for who applying law to facts doesn’t matter.

“This is what happens when a dangerous Gregg Abbott nativist stunt meets the rule of law—it’s shut down by an independent federal judge in a well-reasoned opinion,” said America’s Voice Legal Advisor David Leopold. “But let’s not fool ourselves. Abbott’s appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is designed to float his dangerous and inhumane saw blades right into the anti-immigrant judicial pipeline that he and impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton have carefully constructed over the past 10 years. Abbott is betting that he and his floating saw blades are now in friendlier waters.”

The ruling out of Austin is also a major rebuke of the debunked, white nationalist legal theory that Texas was using to defend its unlawful actions. Texas had claimed it had every right to both usurp federal authority and violate Mexico’s sovereignty because it’s under some alleged “invasion” by migrants. But Judge Ezra rejected this claim outright, calling it “breathtaking.” Moreover, the assertion that desperate migrants seeking safety and security in the United States constitutes a literal “invasion” is inexorably tied to the white nationalist great replacement theory, which has inspired multiple domestic terror attacks. 

And, again, let’s not overlook this statement from the judge: “the State of Texas did not present any credible evidence that the buoy barrier as installed has significantly curtailed illegal immigration across the Rio Grande River.” This has never been about border policy. It’s just another anti-immigrant political stunt – taxpayer funded, of course.

Texas must remove the floating saw blade barrier by September 15. However, that’s an uncertain date at the moment since Abbott has vowed to go all the way to the Supreme Court. Texas advocates remained hopeful following the Austin ruling, and said the Operation Lone Star scheme must be dismantled in its entirety. 

“The buoys are a symbol of the hate-filled and inhumane policies Gov. Abbott has embraced as he continues to wage war on immigrants seeking to make better lives for themselves, as millions of other immigrants have done for hundreds of years in this country,” Immigrant Legal Resource Center Senior Texas Strategist Carolina Canizales said in a statement received by America’s Voice. “This stretch of the beautiful Rio Grande River has been turned into a militarized zone and has wreaked havoc in the peaceful community of Eagle Pass.”