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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's floating wall has arrived at the border

The Texas Department of Public Safety unloads buoys
David Martin Davies
The Texas Department of Public Safety unloads buoys on Friday July 7, 2023, in Eagle Pass in preparation for them to be installed in the Rio Grande to prevent migrants from crossing.

Five tractor trailers loaded with the four-foot diameter buoy balls arrived Friday in Eagle Pass. When assembled, they will make a thousand-foot-long obstacle for migrants crossing the Rio Grande.

"What these buoys will allow us to do is to prevent people from even getting to the border," said Governor Greg Abbott in June. He announced that an experimental border barrier made up of a thousand-foot string of red buoys would be installed in the middle of the Rio Grande in the Eagle Pass area.

"We can put mile after mile of these buoys," Abbott said.

This is the latest effort under Abbott's controversial Operation Lone Star program, which uses the state Department of Public Safety and National Guard troopers to arrest migrants on state trespassing charges — among other tactics to deter immigrants from crossing. Many aspects of the $4 billion Operation Lone Star are being challenged in court, but this floating wall may not float with the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC).

“What Abbott is doing is conducting an irresponsible experiment at the expense of federal and international law,” said Steven Mumme, a scholar at the Baker Institute Center for the United States and Mexico specializing in transboundary environmental and natural resources management along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mumme said the buoys would illegally alter the flow of the river which would change the boundary between the United States and Mexico.

Eagle Pass, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from San Antonio, has become a heavily crossed section of the Rio Grande in recent years.

Four migrants drowned trying to cross in the area in the past week, and local officials worry this floating wall could complicate rescue missions.

Abbott claims the barrier buoys will save the lives of migrants by convincing them not to cross the swift flowing river. Mumme said Abbott has no proof of that assumption since no impact studies have been conducted on the barrier before its installation.

Mumme said under the buoys, there will be netting installed to prevent migrants from swimming under the barrier, but that will likely catch river debris and create a new hazard for the river-crossers.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Border and Immigration News Desk, including the Catena Foundation and Texas Mutual Insurance Company.

Jesse Fuentes of The Eagle Pass Border Coalition said he suspects the barriers will not be securely anchored and during the frequent river overflows, the buoys could break away. This would cause the buoys to float downstream and crash into critical infrastructure like the border bridges.

Fuentes is a participant in a lawsuit filed Friday against Abbott, the state of Texas, and the Department of Public Safety over the buoy barrier.

At a press conference Friday, Fuentes said the barriers are a violation of international law, an environmental stressor on an already troubled river—and also unnecessary. Fuentes added that it will do nothing to make the border more secure.

“This is the most secure border in all of America because there are people in the air, people in the water, people driving around, people looking at us from the left, from the right, and this is our community.”

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi