A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court’s ruling ordering Texas to remove a series of buoys that were installed in the Rio Grande. The court found that Texas violated laws governing navigable waterways by placing these barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. The decision was made by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the earlier ruling in a 2-1 decision.
The buoys, which stretch for 1,000 feet in the Rio Grande with anchors in the riverbed, were installed in July after several migrants, including an infant, drowned while attempting to cross the river.
Authorities later discovered a body floating near the buoys in August. The appeals court agreed with the lower court’s assessment that these buoys posed a threat to navigation, federal government operations, and human life.
Judge Dana Douglas, an appointee of President Biden, wrote the decision and highlighted the risk that these buoys posed to migrants. The court also criticized Texas’s arguments in defense of the installation, including the claim that the state could respond to any act it considered an “invasion.”
The buoys were initially put in place under Operation Lone Star, an anti-immigration program initiated by Governor Greg Abbott.
However, the 5th Circuit administratively stayed the lower court’s order to remove the buoys, pending further arguments. In a dissenting opinion, Judge Don Willett, an appointee of former President Trump, argued that there was not enough evidence to consider the Rio Grande navigable. He believed that historical usage or susceptibility to use in commerce was necessary to establish navigability.
The court’s decision serves as a reminder that permission is required before installing obstructions in navigable waters, regardless of the state’s justifications. Texas will need to address these concerns and comply with the court’s ruling to remove the buoys from the Rio Grande.