Texas prepares to deploy Rio Grande buoys in governor’s latest effort to limit border crossings

EAGLE PASS, Texas (AP) — Texas on Friday began deploying what is expected to become a new floating barrier on the Rio Grande in the latest escalation in Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s multi-billion dollar effort to secure the border with Mexico, which has already included the bus transport of migrants to liberal states and authorized the National Guard to make arrests.

But even before the huge orange buoys were unloaded from the trailers carrying them to the border town of Eagle Pass, there were concerns about this part of Abbott’s unprecedented challenge to federal government authority over immigration law enforcement. Migrant advocates have expressed concerns about the risks of drowning and environmentalists have questioned the impact on the river.

Dozens of large spherical buoys were stacked on the beds of four tractor-trailers in a grassy city park near the river Friday morning.

Putting up the barriers could take up to two weeks, according to Lt. Chris Olivarez, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, which is overseeing the project.

Once installed, the above-river portions of the system and the straps they connect to will cover 1,000 feet (305 meters) of the middle of the Rio Grande, with anchors in the river bed.

Eagle Pass is part of a Border Patrol sector that has seen the second highest number of migrant crossings this fiscal year with around 270,000 encounters – although that’s less than this time last year .

The crossing dynamics changed in May after the Biden administration stopped implementing Title 42, a pandemic-era public health policy that sent many asylum seekers back to Mexico. New rules have allowed people to apply for asylum through a government application and to schedule appointments at ports of entry, although the maximum allowed per day is set at 1,450. The governor’s policies of Texas are targeting the many people frustrated by the ceiling and illegally crossing the river.

Previous iterations of Abbott’s border mission included installing miles of barbed wire at popular crossing points on the river and creating state checkpoints beyond federal stops to inspect incoming commercial traffic.

“We are always looking to use whatever strategies will be effective in securing the border,” Abbott said at a June 8 news conference to outline the buoy strategy.

But the state did not say what tests or studies were conducted to determine the risks posed to people trying to circumvent the barrier or the environmental impacts.

Immigrant advocates, including Sister Isabel Turcios, a nun who oversees a migrant shelter in Piedras Negras, Mexico, which is just across the river from Eagle Pass, have remained vigilant about the effects of the news. migration barrier. Turcios said she met with the Texas Department of Public Safety in the days before the buoys arrived and was told the floating barrier would be placed in deep water to warn migrants to avoid the area. .

Ms Turcios said she was aware that many of the roughly 200 migrants who stay in her shelter on any given day are not deterred from crossing illegally despite the sharp barbed wire. But this wire causes more danger because it forces migrants to spend more time in the river.

“It’s more and more dangerous every time…because it has roosts, whirlpools and because of organized crime,” Turcios said.

At the June press conference, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw spoke of the danger migrants can face when the buoys are deployed: “Every time they enter this water, it is a risk for migrants. It is the very deterrent to coming into the water.

Less than a week ago – around the July 4 holiday – four people, including a baby, drowned near Eagle Pass as they attempted to cross the river.

The Federal International Boundaries and Water Commission, whose jurisdiction includes border demarcation and oversight of U.S.-Mexico treaties, said it was not told Texas about the proposed floating barrier.

“We are studying what Texas is publicly proposing to determine if and how it affects our mission to carry out treaties between the United States and Mexico regarding boundary delineation, flood control, and water distribution, which includes the Rio Grande,” said Frank Fisher, a spokesman. for the commission, said in a statement.

On Friday morning, conservationists from Eagle Pass and Laredo, another Texas border town about 185 miles downriver, staged a protest near the border that included a prayer for the river ahead of the deployment of the barrier.

Jessie Fuentes, who owns a canoe and kayak business that takes paddlers on the Rio Grande, said he was worried about the unintended consequences. On Friday, he filed a lawsuit to stop Texas from using the buoys. He is seeking a permanent injunction, saying his boating business is being affected by limited access to the river.

“I know it is to the detriment of the flow of the river, the ecology of the river, the fauna and flora. Every aspect of nature is affected when you put something that doesn’t belong in the river,” Fuentes said.

Adriana Martinez, a professor at Southern Illinois University who grew up in Eagle Pass, studies the shape of rivers and how they move sediment and create landforms. She said she was worried about what the strap might do.

“Many things float on the river, even when it is not in flood; things that you can’t see like big branches, big rocks,” Martinez said. “And so something like that could get caught up in these buoys and change the way the water flows around them.


Coronado reported from Austin, Texas.

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