An up-close look at Gov. Greg Abbott’s floating wall in the Rio Grande

A group of civil rights advocates, aid workers, journalists, and politicians inspected the string of wrecking ball-sized buoys, which is the centerpiece of what Gov. Greg Abbott calls Operation Lone Star.

By David Martin Davies, Texas Public RadioAugust 8, 2023 9:30 am, ,

From Texas Public Radio:

On a recently early morning in Eagle Pass, Jesse Fuentes led a fact-finding kayak group to see Gov. Greg Abbott’s floating border wall in Eagle Pass. It the centerpiece of Operation Lone Star, his controversial program to deter illegal immigration.

“We’re gonna take our time. It should be a slow paddle, maybe about an hour,” Fuentes told the group of civil rights advocates, aid workers, journalists, and politicians on the kayak tour.

Visitors could see that the Texas side of the river is a wall of steel cargo containers and miles of coiled razor wire. There is also razor wire under the water’s surface, which poses a hazard to anyone who might stumble upon it.

The tour soon came across people stranded in the water — they were migrants looking for an opening in the razor wire so they could enter Texas.

David Martin Davies / Texas Public Radio

Eagle Pass resident Jesse Fuentes leads a fact-finding kayaking tour of the epicenter of Governor Greg Abbott's $4 billion Operation Lone Star border security program.

They said they’re from Venezuela. It was several families with small children struggling to wade through the murky water.

They added that they traveled for more than a month and were exhausted. The 104-degree heat of the day sapped their energy.

“I think there’s a better way — a more humanitarian way,” said State Rep. Vikki Goodwin, who was part of the fact-finding kayaking group.

The Austin Democrat said instead of spending billions of dollars on Operation Lone Star, the state should invest in the infrastructure to help people enter Texas legally.

“They certainly wouldn’t choose to cross a river that’s bordered by razor wire,” she said.

Farther downriver, the tour reached the orange buoy barrier. It stretches out for more than three football fields in the middle of the Rio Grande.

Swimming under the barrier is not an option. It’s anchored to the shallow water with thick cables and concrete bases.

There are also serrated metal plates that look like circular saw blades between each buoy to deter anyone from climbing over it.

“I had to see it for myself,” Fuentes said.

David Martin Davies / Texas Public Radio

Gov. Greg Abbott's floating wall border buoys in the middle of the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, Texas.

It was the first time he had seen the buoys up close, and he was taken aback.

“Just cruelty. You saw it for yourself,” he said. “Nothing but concertina, containers, ship cars, and now a buoy in the middle of the river.”

In recent days, bodies of migrants were discovered near the buoy barrier.

Texas officials say the men likely drowned upstream. One body was caught in the buoys.

The Biden administration wants the barrier removed. The Department of Justice sued Abbott and said the buoys block navigable waterways, threaten public safety, and violate treaties with Mexico.

To exit the river, the tour moved downstream to a pre-arranged break in the razor wire. Soonafter, the migrant families from earlier in the day arrived.

They, too, wanted out of the river. But Texas National Guardsmen stopped them. The soldiers quickly unspooled fresh razor wire and hammered fence posts into the ground.

David Donatti of the Texas ACLU challenged the guardsmen.

“I basically demanded that they call federal border patrol because immigration enforcement is a federal prerogative,” he explained.

The Texas agents cut and pulled back the razor wire, and the migrants stepped onto Texas soil.

Donatti led them to the U.S. Border Patrol, where they received water and were allowed to rest in the shade.

The families were soon after taken away to make their asylum claims.

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