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U.S. and Mexican governments look to the courts to put an end to Abbott's 'floating wall'

The Heavenly Farms pecan orchard is seen in the background as migrant families navigate the Rio Grande river past workers and buoys while searching for an entry point into the United States from Mexico in Eagle Pass, Texas, U.S. July 27, 2023.
Adrees Latif
The Heavenly Farms pecan orchard is seen in the background as migrant families navigate the Rio Grande while searching for an entry point into the U.S. in July 2023.

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Mexico is taking a wait-and-see approach to dealing with Operation Lone Star's buoys in the Rio Grande.

Mexico’s Foreign Minister Alicia Barcena Ibarra joined U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a joint press conference Thursday to discuss the controversial 1,000-foot anti-migrant barrier in the middle of the Rio Grande.

Speaking through a translator, Barcena said much of the barrier is on the Mexican side of the river but because of the delicate nature of the situation, Mexico is going to wait to see how the Biden administration’s lawsuit to remove the buoys plays out.

“Our demand is that these buoys be removed. This is an action on the part of a state government that obviously [is] causing problems that are not just affecting that state. So I hope to receive good news over the course of this month,” she said.

Mexico's new Foreign Minister Alicia Barcena Ibarra speaks during a meetting with the media at the Secretary of Foreign Affairs headquarters, in Mexico City, Mexico. July 14, 2023.
Raquel Cunha
Mexican Foreign Minister Alicia Barcena Ibarra speaks during a meetting with the media in Mexico City in July 2023.

Texas claimed the barrier does not cross the line into Mexico.

In July 2023, the Justice Department sued Texas in federal court seeking an order to remove the state’s border barrier on the ground that it violates a law that bars unauthorized construction in a navigable waterway.

But Gov. Greg Abbott's attorneys argued that the floating barrier is not the type of structure that violates the act because it is placed in shallow areas that ultimately do not affect the navigability of the river.

However, the State of Texas does operate and navigate boats in the Rio Grande near the buoys, and all along the 1,900 mile Rio Grande, thousands of boats are used every year.

When asked why the federal government doesn't just remove the buoys itself since they are there illegally, Blinken replied that the Biden administration would prefer to follow a legal process.

"We're a country and a government that proceeds by rule of law. And in this case, the Department of Justice has gone to court seeking two things. One, the removal of the buoys. Two, an injunction against any further construction of buoys. So we need to let this legal process play out," he explained. "Department of Justice can give you more detail on this, but that is the proper and appropriate way to proceed for a country that operates under the rule of law."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to media with El Salvador’s Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill at the State Department in Washington, U.S., August 7, 2023.
Kevin Wurm
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken

Despite the controversy over the buoys, it was the topic of curbing the flow of fentanyl from Mexico into the U.S. that dominated the press conference.

Overdose deaths in the United States tied to the powerful synthetic opioid is a serious problem that is only getting worse.

Nearly 110,000 Americans died last year from drug overdoses, mostly of fentanyl. Blinken told Barcena that fighting fentanyl abuse was at the very top of the list of our priorities.

“For us and for Mexico. The challenge of dealing with drugs, and particularly now synthetic drugs, is at the top of our respective agendas. Here in the United States, Fentanyl -- a synthetic opioid -- is the number one killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 49. That in and of itself puts it at the very top of the list of our priorities," Blinken said.

"It's taken a tremendous toll on a human basis. It's taken a tremendous toll on an economic basis — more than $1.5 trillion in a single year is cost of dealing with this epidemic. So it's a major priority for President Biden, a major priority for me.”

We know that illicit fentanyl is flowing into the U.S. from Mexico. Yet we rarely hear from the couriers who smuggle most of it through legal ports of entry. This is one of their stories.

Barcena said Mexico will be digitally tracking imports — mostly from China — for the pre-cursor ingredients used to make and distribute fentanyl.

"So we're fully aware of how this is a top priority for the United States and Canada because we're losing our young people. This is a matter of public health without a doubt. This is an issue for which there needs to be global collaboration, not just a collaboration between our countries,” she said.

Blinken said that fentanyl is no longer just a U.S. problem. The cartels have saturated the market in the United States and are now pushing it into other parts of the world.

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