AUSTIN — Texas will soon deploy a string of buoys in the middle of the Rio Grande in a new effort to deter migrants, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday.
A 1,000-foot long set of marine floating barriers will be placed in the river near Eagle Pass by July 7, state officials said. Each buoy is about 4 feet in diameter.
If the initial test works, “we can put mile after mile after mile of these buoys” in the water at locations where crossings by large groups of migrants are expected, Abbott said. It’s unclear how long the test will last.
The buoys will create “a layering effect,” combined with concertina wire laid on the bank of the river by Texas National Guard and swiftly mobilized formations of state police and soldiers standing nearby, Abbott said.
“What these buoys will allow us to do is to prevent people from even getting to the border,” the three-term Republican governor said at a Capitol news conference.
Abbott spoke after signing six border-related bills sent to him by the Legislature in the session that ended on Memorial Day. The measures are in addition to $5.1 billion in the new state budget that’s on Abbott’s desk and a bill before lawmakers in their special session that would authorize a prison sentence of at least 10 years for smugglers of migrants.
The new laws compensate farmers and ranchers whose land is damaged by migrants, authorize the Texas Military Department to use drones at the border and declare Mexican drug cartels “foreign terrorist organizations.”
Posters the governor displayed showing aerial and close-up photos of the buoys included the logo of Cochrane USA, a subsidiary of the fencing company Cochrane International. DPS spokesman Travis Considine confirmed the buoys are from Cochrane.
The cost of the initial deployment in Maverick County will be “under $1 million,” said Col. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Reaction from staunch opponents of President Joe Biden’s immigration policies was favorable.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation supports the inflatable barrier because it might help stop migrants from wanting to cross into Texas through bodies of water, said Joshua Treviño, chief of intelligence and research for the conservative think tank.
“It certainly passes the common sense test,” Treviño said. “Given that this is an effort by the state to fulfill its legitimate, constitutional function of controlling its own international border, then we support it.”
Wade Miller, executive director of Citizens for Renewing America, another conservative group, said time will tell if the tactic is effective.
“Any type of barrier that makes cartel-controlled human and child trafficking more difficult is moral policy,” he said.
“The key here is if it actually stops people from trying to cross the border,” said Miller, who previously served as chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin. “If it doesn’t significantly stop illegal crossings, then it’s a waste of taxpayer funds.”
Rochelle Garza, president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, called it “overreach” by Abbott and said the state should invest in border communities, not usurp the federal government’s role as enforcer of immigration laws.
“People already face the risk of drowning in the Rio Grande due to plants, debris and an unpredictable current,” said Garza, who was the Democratic nominee for Texas attorney general in 2022. “These barriers would only add to the danger they already face.”
Ramona Casas of ARISE Adelante, a group that organizes residents of colonias in the Rio Grande Valley, took issue with officials saying the buoys are a way to further protect Texas from unauthorized immigrants crossing into the state.
“When you hear the phrase ‘protect the border,’ it’s like viewing migrants as an enemy or a threat,” Casas said in Spanish. “I don’t think that a family or a child or a single mother that’s looking to claim asylum and protection are people we need to defend ourselves from.”
McCraw noted that the buoys, as well as the concertina wire that has been used in Abbott’s Operation Lone Star over the past two years, are mobile.
They can be placed in a location, gathered up, and then transported to a different part of the river, the state police chief explained.
“It’s something we can do quickly,” McCraw said. “We can put it there and it deters the large groups of people from moving in that area. We can control it ... along with the deployment of razor wire and a sufficient number of soldiers and troopers. It’s an in-depth defense.”
The U.S. Border Patrol originated the idea of placing strings of buoys in the river, and conducted tests to make sure there was minimal risk of harming migrants, McCraw said.
Asked if the buoys would help migrants by providing a place to rest before proceeding, McCraw said they would not.
“Because of the water and the buoys, it’s very difficult to be able to go through these,” he said. “There’s ways to overcome it. But it takes great effort. It takes specialized skills and equipment to do it.”
Abbott and McCraw said state officials carefully weighed any safety risks posed by the strings of floating barriers.
“We don’t want anybody to get hurt. In fact, we want to prevent people from getting hurt, prevent people from drowning,” McCraw said.
The buoys rotate and are made of polyethylene, contain “closed cell marine foam” and include galvanized fixtures and steel components, Considine said.
Asked if migrants could foil a string of buoys simply by swimming underwater, Considine replied: “It is a substantial barrier on a body of moving water that is already dangerous to cross, making it much more difficult for an individual to cross illegally and impossible for human smugglers to use rafts.”