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Federal appeals court will reconsider case over Texas’ placement of buoys in Rio Grande

 Workers take a break from deploying large buoys to be used as a border barrier in the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas.
Eric Gay/ Associated Press
Workers take a break from deploying large buoys to be used as a border barrier in the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas.

A federal appeals court will rehear a case over Texas’ controversial decision to install a floating barrier in the Rio Grande as part of its efforts to prevent migrants from entering the state illegally.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals announced Wednesday the entire court will reconsider the case. The decision comes after a three-judge panel last month ordered Texas to remove the barriers.

Gov. Greg Abbott quickly requested the rehearing after that ruling, and the issue will now go before the Fifth Circuit — considered one of the most conservative in the country — in May.

The state and federal fight over the barrier began last summer, when Abbott ordered the installation of the 1,000-foot floating wall in Maverick County near Eagle Pass as part of Texas’ Operation Lone Star — a controversial state-led border security effort Abbott has said is necessary due to President Biden’s immigration policies and a record-number of apprehensions at the southern border.

After its installation, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Texas, arguing at the time that placing the buoys in the river violated federal law, created safety and humanitarian concerns and interfered with the federal government’s own border-security efforts.

Abbott has repeatedly and defiantly challenged Biden on the border at nearly every turn since the president took office three years ago. The state of Texas and the White House are also at odds over whether U.S. Border Patrol agents can cut through razor wire installed by state officers as part of their deterrence efforts. That issue is also tied up in federal court, and the Biden administration turned to the U.S. Supreme Court this month, asking justices to side with the White House and allow agents access.

The Justice Department also sued the state of Texas this month over a state-based immigration bill that allows local and state police officers to arrest a person suspected of having entered Texas from a foreign country illegally. Abbott signed the legislation, Senate Bill 4, in December. If SB 4 survives legal challenges, it is scheduled to go into effect in March.

In August, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, led a delegation of state and federal lawmakers to the Texas border where he and others blasted Abbott for what they called political theatre.

“This operation isn’t about border security, it’s a political stunt,” Castro said at the time.
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Julián Aguilar | The Texas Newsroom