TEXAS VIEW: Abbott’s buoys in Rio Grande a gross display of overreach

THE POINT: If the aim was deterrence of illegal immigration, then the buoys are a failure.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s orange buoys might float his political aspirations, but they have no place in the Rio Grande.

They are a grotesque display of government overreach, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was right Friday, Dec. 1, to uphold a lower court’s decision ordering their removal.

Eagle Pass, about 150 miles southwest of San Antonio, remains one of the busiest entry points for immigrants despite the buoys and the fearsome razor wire that lines the Rio Grande’s banks. In October, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 38,211 land encounters for the Del Rio sector, which includes Eagle Pass. This made Del Rio the second-busiest sector for the Southwest region, trailing the Tucson, Ariz., sector, which had 55,224 reported encounters.

Many Texans might see great political symbolism in the buoys and razor wire: the juxtaposition of a driven Texas government with a feckless Biden administration, the muscular assertion of states’ rights, the accompanying rhetoric of “invasion” as if asylum-seekers are a foreign army.

No one should reasonably look at 1,000 feet of buoys placed in the middle of a river that runs the 1,200 miles of Texas-Mexico border (and 1,900 miles total) and see deterrence. Just as no one should reasonably think an asylum-seeker who has made a harrowing journey from Central America or beyond, fleeing violence and risking death, is going to stop at the U.S-Mexico border because of razor wire.

And no one should be surprised about the 5th Circuit’s ruling. In September, U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra found the state of Texas exceeded its authority by deploying the barriers without federal permission. The state needed clearance from the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees all navigable waterways under the Federal Rivers and Harbors Act.

A three-judge panel with the 5th Circuit upheld Ezra’s ruling by a 2-1 margin. Abbott has vowed to petition for a rehearing and even an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Abbott has argued the Rio Grande is “not navigable by definition when you have literally thousands of people able to walk across it every single day,” he told Fox News. “It is not used for transportation of boats up and down that riverway. So it’s completely not navigable.”

This, of course, ignores the many drownings in the Rio Grande, as well as kayaks and motorboats used on the river. It is an absurd argument.

If anything, the buoys and razor wire, which faces its own legal questions, demonstrate the obvious need for comprehensive immigration reform and the shortcomings of trying to limit illegal immigration solely at the U.S.-Mexico border.

In an alternative (and better) world, Abbott might have partnered with other border state governors to give voice to the need for federal comprehensive immigration reform. In an alternative (and wiser) world, Abbott could have deployed state resources to bolster federal security efforts. Instead, we have federal officials cutting state razor wire to rescue immigrants trapped in it. In one instance, a Department of Public Safety trooper threatened to arrest Border Patrol agents for cutting the wire.

There is no doubt the Biden administration is struggling with a surge of encounters along the U.S.-Mexico border. Federal officials have reported almost 2.5 million encounters in the last year, which is about 100,000 more than a year ago and about 800,000 more than two years ago. It represents a monumental challenge to President Joe Biden’s reelection bid, just as it provides immense political opportunity for Abbott.

But all Texans should ask themselves whether Abbott’s use of buoys and razor wire have made the border more secure and immigration reforms more realistic, or if they represent little more than political sound and fury.

San Antonio Express-News