By PAUL J. WEBER
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Mexico’s government has repeatedly raised concerns with the U.S. about large buoys Texas put on the Rio Grande to deter migrants and agreements between the two countries could suffer if the floating barrier remains in place, a State Department official said in court Tuesday.
The testimony sought to reinforce what the Biden administration argues are the diplomatic stakes over wrecking-ball-sized buoys that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott authorized this summer as part of the Republican’s increasingly hardline measures in the name of curbing the flow of migrants crossing the border.
U.S. District Judge David Ezra did not immediately rule at the conclusion of the hearing Tuesday in Austin. At one point, Ezra said the issue centered on whether Abbott has the power to unilaterally try stopping what the governor has described as an “invasion” on America’s southern border.
“Mexico has sensitivities about sovereignty and doesn’t want to be seen as a lesser partner to the United States,” said Hillary Quam, the State Department’s coordinator for border affairs between U.S. and Mexico.
She said Mexico has raised concerns “at the highest diplomatic levels” with the U.S. in the short time that the buoys — which stretch roughly the length of a handful of soccer fields on a portion of the river near the Texas city of Eagle Pass — have been on the water. Quam said infrastructure projects between the countries and Mexico’s commitments to delivering water to the U.S. could stall over the barrier.
The hearing was held days after Texas repositioned the barrier closer to U.S. soil. During a trip Monday to Eagle Pass, Abbott said the barrier was moved “out of an abundance of caution” after what he described as allegations that they had drifted to Mexico’s side of the river. He added that he did not know whether the allegations were true.
Ezra questioned why Texas would have moved the barrier if it was already on the U.S. side and whether the currents of the river were causing the buoys to drift.
“If it were in a position Texas was comfortable with, they wouldn’t have done that,” Ezra said.
Ezra ordered both sides to submit written closing arguments by Friday as the Biden administration seeks a court injunction ordering the removal of the buoys.
In the meantime, Abbott’s sprawling border mission known as Operation Lone Star continues to face numerous legal challenges, including a new one filed Monday by four migrant men arrested by Texas troopers after crossing the border.
The men, including a father and son, are among thousands of migrants who since 2021 have been arrested on trespassing charges in the state. Most have either had their cases dismissed or entered guilty pleas in exchange for time served. But the plaintiffs remained in a Texas jail for two to six weeks after they should have been released, according to the lawsuit filed by the Texas ACLU and the Texas Fair Defense Project.
Instead of a sheriff’s office allowing the jails to release the men, the lawsuit alleges, they were transported to federal immigration facilities and then sent to Mexico.
Officials in both Kinney and Val Verde counties, which have partnered with Abbott’s operation, are named in the lawsuit. A representative for Kinney County said Monday that he did not believe anyone had yet reviewed the complaint. A representative for Val Verde County did not return an email seeking comment.