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Judge orders Texas to move buoys; migrant surge vexes NYC

By AI HEPING in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-09-08 09:45
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Workers provide maintenance to the blades between the buoys placed along the Rio Grande border with Mexico to prevent migrants from entering the US in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Aug 25, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

A federal judge has ordered Texas to move a large floating barrier of buoys that the state placed in the middle of the Rio Grande to stop migrants from crossing America's southern border.

US District Court Judge David Ezra in Austin issued a preliminary injunction Wednesday directing Texas officials to move the roughly 1,000-foot barrier to the US banks of the river by Sept 15 at the state's own expense while the legal case proceeded. He found that the federal government was likely to prevail on the merits of the case when there is a full trial.

Ezra noted that he was directing state officials to move the floating barrier to the riverbank on the US side rather than ordering its "removal entirely from the river".

He also prohibited the state from setting up similar structures in the middle of the Rio Grande, the international boundary between the US and Mexico in Texas.

The judge found that the buoys obstructed free navigation in the river, in violation of a longstanding law governing waterways controlled by the federal government. Texas, he concluded, needed to obtain permission from the US Army Corps of Engineers, a federal agency, to place the barriers in the river.

Texas filed a notice of appeal later Wednesday. "Texas is prepared to take this fight all the way to the US Supreme Court," said a statement from Republican Governor Greg Abbott's office. 

The judge found that the problems posed by the barrier, which federal authorities said included a risk of drowning by those trying to cross the river, outweighed the interest that Texas had in controlling migration into the state. 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed suit in July, arguing that the barrier violated a federal law that prohibits structures in navigable waterways without federal approval. 

It said the barrier, placed in a section of the river in the border city of Eagle Pass, Texas, was hazardous for any migrants who might be in distress while trying to cross the river and made rescuing them more dangerous for Border Patrol agents.

In recent years, according to the filings, there have been 89 water-related deaths of migrants in and around Eagle Pass. The DOJ also said the barrier harmed diplomatic relations with Mexico.

Ezra agreed that the barrier posed a danger to people and had negatively affected relations with Mexico. "Credible evidence establishes that the harm from the floating barrier is immediate and ongoing," the judge found.

Lawyers for Abbott and the state of Texas argued that the rivers and harbors law didn't apply because the Rio Grande in that section was too shallow for navigation and because the buoy barrier wasn't physically attached to the riverbed.

They also said Texas had the legal authority to deploy the buoys because illegal crossings by migrants and the smuggling of drugs from Mexico constituted an invasion, which Abbott had the power, they argued, to declare and combat under the US Constitution, without oversight.

"Whether and when an 'invasion' occurs is a matter of foreign policy and national defense, which the Constitution specifically commits to the federal government," DOJ lawyers argued.

Ezra said the question of an invasion was for the political branches to decide, not the courts.

On Wednesday evening, Mayor Eric Adams told a town hall meeting in Manhattan that the ongoing migrant crisis "will destroy New York City".

"What happened? It started with a madman down in Texas, decided he wanted to bus people up to New York City," Adams said, a reference to Abbott sending migrants on buses to New York, Los Angeles and other cities. 

The New York Times reported Thursday that the number of migrants offered free passage from Texas over the past year is a fraction of those who regularly make their way from the southern border to cities around the country.

According to demographers' estimates, of roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants living in all states, most began their new lives with a trip from a border city or airport usually paid for by a relative, an aid group or their own savings, not the Texas governor, the Times said.

Adams said more than 110,000 asylum seekers have arrived in the city since April 2022. 

He said the crisis is financially crippling and is creating a $12 billion budget deficit. "We have to feed, clothe, house, educate the children, wash their laundry sheets, give them everything they need, healthcare," Adams said.

Nearly 60,000 migrants occupy beds in traditional city shelters and in more than 200 emergency sites, according to city officials. 

Adams said the asylum seekers were coming from Venezuela, but now they are from Ecuador; Russian speakers are coming through Mexico,  as are migrants from West Africa.

"Let me tell you something, New Yorkers. Never in my life have I had a problem that I did not see an ending to. I don't see an ending to this," Adams said. 

"The city we knew, we're about to lose, and we are all in this together, all of us."

The Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless called the mayor's comments "reckless and unproductive fearmongering''.

Adams, a Democrat in his second year in office, has clashed with leading members of his party over the migrant crisis. He has criticized President Joe Biden and Governor Kathy Hochul for failing to help the city handle the asylum seekers and pleaded for additional funding and expedited work permits.

Hochul said during a discussion Thursday that the state can't "house the entire world" and said the answer lies in Washington.

As New York City students returned to school on Thursday, city officials said that about 20,000 migrant children were expected to join them.

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