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Texas has deployed a buoy barrier in the Rio Grande to deter migrant crossings


Texas has started to deploy a barrier of buoys down the middle of the Rio Grande. Governor Greg Abbott ordered the barrier because he says the state is dealing with an immigration crisis at the southern border. But as Texas Public Radio's David Martin Davies reports, the buoy barrier may not float after a court challenge.

DAVID MARTIN DAVIES, BYLINE: Jessie Fuentes arrived Friday morning at Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, Texas, right on the Mexican border, the bed of his pickup truck loaded with five kayaks. His plan was to lead a group to paddle a stretch of the Rio Grande, but the park and the boat ramp were blocked.

JESSIE FUENTES: For the last seven years, we've conducted so many activities on that river through that boat ramp. I've been on this river for 35 miles. There's never been an issue.

DAVIES: The Texas Department of Public Safety declared the park closed as part of the state's ongoing emergency declaration called Operation Lone Star. The park became a staging area for the deployment of a thousand-foot barrier wall. Five tractor trailers arrived and dropped off hundreds of four-foot-tall orange buoys. Governor Greg Abbott announced the deployment last month.


GREG ABBOTT: We're securing the border at the border. What these buoys will allow us to do is to prevent people from even getting to the border.

DAVIES: The plan is to link the border buoys and float them in the middle of the Rio Grande. Eagle Pass is a hot spot for unauthorized border crossers. To stop them, Texas already put razor wire at the water's edge. There is a wall of cargo ship containers lined up along the banks with more razor wire. Then there are Texas troopers and Texas National Guardsmen at the ready. Fuentes says the river has been militarized.

FUENTES: This is the most secure border in all of America because there is people in the air. There's people in the water. There's people driving around, people looking at us from the left, from the right. And this is our community.

DAVIES: The addition of the buoys to the international waters of the Rio Grande could become a problem for Abbott. Political scientist at Colorado State University Stephen Mumme says this clearly violates treaties between the United States and Mexico.

STEPHEN MUMME: The state of Texas isn't authorized to be doing border barriers, which is a function of Homeland Security.

DAVIES: Mumme says the buoy system would alter the flow of the river, and that would change the U.S.-Mexico boundary.

MUMME: What Abbott is doing is conducting an irresponsible experiment at the expense of federal and international law.

DAVIES: So far, federal officials have been quiet about the buoy deployment. This first batch of buoys cost Texas taxpayers just under a million dollars. And Abbott promises this is just the beginning.


ABBOTT: Well, we can put mile after mile after mile of these buoys.

DAVIES: A lawsuit was filed on Friday by Fuentes and his river outfitting business trying to stop the buoys from being put in the Rio Grande.

FUENTES: Once they float those buoys down, it's going to even create more problems. Anything that's foreign in the center of a river is not meant to be there.

DAVIES: The lawsuit claims that Abbott has misapplied the Texas Disaster Act to implement Operation Lone Star by targeting Mexicans and Mexican Americans who live in the border area. And the buoys would kill Fuentes' kayaking business. Abbott responded with a tweet. Quote, "this is going to the Supreme Court. Texas has a constitutional right to secure our border." For NPR News, I'm David Martin Davies in Eagle Pass, Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Martin Davies
David Martin Davies is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience covering Texas, the border and Mexico.