After Title 42 – which allowed the US government to repatriate Venezuelan migrants under the pretext of Covid – comes a new strategy to deter immigration. A buoy barrier is being erected on the river bordering Mexico. Experts have doubts about the effectiveness and fear for migrants in even more danger of drowning
Texas is implementing a new strategy to prevent migrants from crossing the Mexico-US border: the authorities have begun installing large orange floating buoys on the Rio Grande – a river that flows from Colorado into the Gulf of Mexico passing along the Mexican border of Texas – to create a barrier that should cover a length of about 305 meters. The buoys will be strapped together and anchored to the river bed in the Eagle Pass area which has seen 270,000 migrant detentions since the beginning of the year. Officials believe the barrier will help protect the border by acting as a deterrent to migrants who decide to cross it into US territory.
The barrier comes after a series of drownings that occurred earlier this month: four victims, including a newborn. Two weekends ago, a woman and a young girl were found unconscious in the river, Texas DPS Lieutenant Christopher Olivarez said, and last week a man and woman were found dead, respectively. In 2022 – the deadliest for migrants with at least 748 victims at the border – a Texas National Guard officer also drowned trying to save a woman who was crossing the Rio Grande.
“We always try to employ any effective strategy to secure the border,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said at a news conference.
But spokespersons for migrants argue that the barrier could be ineffective as well as dangerous. Indeed, the researchers wonder whether the strategy will have a significant impact on the number of migrants by managing to dissuade them from attempting the crossing.
Dr. Adriana Martinez, a professor at Southern Illinois University who has extensively studied the impact of the Rio Grande projects — and an Eagle Pass native — said the barrier can pose a real danger to migrants attempting to cross the border across the river because the presence of the buoys contributes to changing stream flow, and tree limbs and other debris could get stuck in the net under the buoys. “It will certainly cause the water to act unexpectedly; and who knows what will happen when the water gets higher,” she added.
According to Nicaraguan activist Justine Ochoacon – who works for Texas Nicaraguans, an organization that regularly helps repatriate the remains of Nicaraguan citizens who drowned in the Rio Grande – the barrier could also push migrants towards more “inhospitable” parts of the river, increasing the risk of drowning. Indeed, in recent years, migrants have resorted to increasingly risky – and too often fatal – routes to evade detection and enter the United States.
Veronica Escobar – US politician, member of the House of Representatives for the state of Texas – called the new Abbott cabinet policy “shameful, dangerous, reckless and deadly”, also mentioning potential repercussions on patrol agencies and security personnel operating at the border whose job is to provide for the rescue operations of migrants. “Deterrence and tactics don’t stop desperate people running for their lives,” she told CNN.
In turn, Mexico has already called for the removal of the barriers: a diplomatic note has been sent to the US government, expressing concern that the deployment of the floating barriers on the Rio Grande could violate the 1944 and 1970 treaties on borders and waters that require that the river remain free of obstructions.
Foreign Minister Alicia Bárcena said Mexico would send an inspection team up the Rio Grande to check whether any part of the barrier extends onto the Mexican side of the border river.
And the owner of a local kayak tour operator has also filed a lawsuit against the Texas government over the buoys, arguing the barrier will harm his business and destroy local ecosystems. Governor Abbott replied in a tweet: “we will see you in court”, reiterating that “Texas has a constitutional right to protect our border”.