A U.S. appeals court issued an order on Thursday temporarily ensuring that a barrier of floating buoys in the Rio Grande that was placed by Texas to discourage illegal crossings could stay in place while the court considered a full decision.
The order, from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, came a day after a federal judge had ordered Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas to remove the barrier because it was an impediment to navigation on the river and a “threat to human life.” The U.S. Justice Department filed a suit in July that argued that the barrier violated a federal law that prohibits structures in navigable waterways without federal approval.
Lawyers for Mr. Abbott and the state of Texas argued in court documents filed on Thursday that “a border-security disaster” had prompted the state to place the roughly 1,000-foot barrier in front of the U.S. banks of the river to prevent illegal crossings and that “no evidence showed the buoys ‘obstruct’ any navigable capacity of the river.”
The state’s lawyers also said in their motion that a temporary stay was necessary because “Texas has clear constitutional authority to defend its territory against the invasion” of migrants and smuggled drugs.
The temporary stay issued on Thursday has, for now, negated the order from Judge David Ezra of the U.S. District Court in Austin, who, in issuing the preliminary injunction on Wednesday, found that the federal government was likely to prevail on the merits of the case in a trial.
Judge Ezra found that the problems posed by the barrier, which the federal authorities said included a risk of drowning for those trying to cross the river, outweighed the interest that Texas had in controlling migration into the state.
Mr. Abbott’s office had said in a statement on Wednesday that the state would appeal the decision, vowing that it was “prepared to take this fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The governor has repeatedly pushed the limits of state action on immigration. He said in a letter to President Biden in July that he had the legal right to create a barrier along the border, in part because of a clause in the U.S. Constitution dealing with state powers during an “invasion.”
The court fight represented the first direct challenge by the federal government to Mr. Abbott over his increasingly aggressive effort to stop migrants from entering the United States, a sweeping, multibillion-dollar program known as Operation Lone Star.