Border battle between Abbott, DOJ continues in Austin courtroom

Attorneys with the Department of Justice were in Austin Tuesday to request a federal judge issue an injunction to stop construction of the buoy barrier system in the Rio Grande.

The thousand-foot-long barrier near Eagle Pass is designed to redirect migrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. On Tuesday, it was revealed the barrier was recently moved closer to the Texas side of the river in response to claims that part of it was on the Mexican side of the border.

Before the hearing, supporters of the DOJ lawsuit made it clear they want all the buoys out the water.

"We keep throwing money at Operation Lone Star and it's not changing anything. We need to invest in humane solutions to keep both citizens and immigrants safe," said a woman during a news conference at the courthouse.

The primary witness for the DOJ was Joseph Shelnutt, a compliance officer with the Army Corps of Engineers, who testified that the state didn't get a permit to install the floating barrier and, in his opinion, the buoys violate the federal Rivers and Harbor Act. He called them an obstruction to navigation because the system creates a problem for people trying to cross from the Mexican side of the border to the U.S. 

Gov. Greg Abbott had defended his border strategy the previous day while giving a delegation of Republican governors a tour of the border.

"Altogether, If you add in the other states that are supporting this mission, 25 governors in 25 states, half of the states of the United States of America are banding together to step up and secure a border that President Biden has abandoned," said Abbott.


Attorneys for the governor pointed out during the hearing that documents filed by the DOJ actually help their argument. 

According to a 1975 Corps of Engineers study, navigation is not practical in the area where the buoys are located. The legal fight over that assessment was at the core of the hearing. 

Judge David Ezra asked several questions about how the floating barrier is secured by concrete anchors and was told the buoys could not be moved by the current of the river. The judge told the attorneys to put closing argument in writing and have them submitted by Friday, indicating a ruling may not come until next week. 

While the judge said he would not be influenced by politics, a member of the state department testified. Hillary Quam claimed the buoys have caused a political strain between the U.S. and Mexico.

The Mexican government believes the system can deflect and obstruct the flow of water and Mexico has threatened to hold up negotiations regarding the release of water to Texas farmers.