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The 5th Circuit Court Commands Texas to Clear Buoys from Rio Grande River

On Friday, a federal appeals court confirmed a previous court’s decision, ordering Texas to dismantle a series of buoys it had set up in the Rio Grande. The court concluded that Texas had breached regulations regarding navigable waters by installing these obstructions along the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 verdict, agreed with the lower court’s judgment. The court acknowledged that the lower court had rightly evaluated the dangers these buoys posed to navigation, federal operations on the Rio Grande, and the potential threat to human life.

Spanning 1,000 feet, the chain of buoys, anchored to the riverbed, features rounded blades with serrated edges, resembling circular saws.

These barriers were erected around July 10, shortly after the tragic drowning of four migrants, including a baby, in the river. In August, a dead body was discovered near these buoys.

Judge Dana Douglas, appointed by President Biden, wrote the decision. The ruling highlighted the risk to migrants crossing the Rio Grande, a risk Texas itself acknowledged.

The lower court was notably critical of Texas’s defense for installing the buoys, especially challenging the state’s claim of responding to what it perceives as an “invasion.”

The buoys were part of Operation Lone Star, initiated by Governor Greg Abbott (R) as a response to what he saw as federal inaction at the border.

In his ruling, District Judge David Alan Ezra pointed out the necessity for federal permission before placing such obstructions in navigable waters. This is in contrast to Governor Abbott’s statement that he wasn’t seeking permission for Operation Lone Star.

However, the 5th Circuit temporarily halted Ezra’s order to remove the buoys, pending further discussions.

Judge Don Willett, appointed by former President Trump, dissented, arguing that the historical use of this segment of the Rio Grande wasn’t extensive enough to classify the waters as navigable. He emphasized the lack of evidence supporting the river’s historical use for commerce in this particular 1,000-foot segment.