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Fifth Circuit issues temporary stay for Texas' border buoys to remain in Rio Grande

Workers assemble a string of buoys to deter migrants from crossing the Rio Grande at the international border with Mexico in Eagle Pass in July 2023.
Adrees Latif
Workers assemble a string of buoys to deter migrants from crossing the Rio Grande at the international border with Mexico in Eagle Pass in July 2023.

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It was a short-lived victory for the federal government over Texas’ anti-migrant border buoys.

The day after U.S. District Judge David Ezra ordered the removal of the 1,000 foot string of buoys, the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an emergency stay.

In the ruling, the New Orleans-based three-judge panel did not give a reason for why it granted the State of Texas' request. The appellate court has not yet set a date for a hearing.

Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the boom of buoys to be placed into the river near Eagle Pass as part of the multi-billion dollar Operation Lone Star to deter migrants from crossing from Mexico into Texas.

Following the Fifth Circuit's stay, the buoys will be able to stay in the waters of the Rio Grande for now while the appellate court considers the Justice Department's case against the State of Texas.

The federal government argued the buoys are a threat to public safety, impeded navigation in the river, and damage U.S. relations with Mexico.

In documents, attorneys for Texas claimed the removal of the floating barrier would harm the state’s self defense from a "cartel invasion," an argument Ezra — a Reagan appointee — called "unconvincing."

Abbott's controversial border security initiative is testing the limits of a state's ability to enforce immigration policy.

“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. Unfortunately for Texas, permission is exactly what federal law requires before installing obstructions in the nation’s navigable waters,” Ezra wrote in the ruling that the 5th Circuit negated.

Abbott has said he is ready fight the case all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We will continue to utilize every strategy to secure the border, including deploying Texas National Guard soldiers and Department of Public Safety troopers and installing strategic barriers," Abbott's office said in a statement earlier this week.

A group of civil rights advocates, aid workers, journalists, and politicians inspected the string of wrecking ball-sized buoys, which is the centerpiece of what Gov. Greg Abbott calls Operation Lone Star.

Immigrant rights activists and congressional Democrats urged the federal government to intervene.

Congressman Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, describedAbbott's Operation Lone Star escalations as a strategy "relying on cruelty and arrogance as a deterrent while wasting millions of taxpayer dollars."

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi