You can take our Rio Grande buoys from our cold, dead hands, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) told the Biden administration in a Monday letter.
Abbott told President Joe Biden in the letter that the Department of Justice would have to file suit against Texas to stop the state from using the buoys to stop migrants from crossing into the U.S. from Mexico through points in the Rio Grande river.
Abbott has claimed that Texas faces an “invasion” that has left the state with no choice but to take a series of increasingly bizarre and draconian steps to block the border — including, in this case, the use of inflatable barriers within the river.
Some Texas Republicans, including scandal-plagued Attorney General Ken Paxton, have seen that “invasion” argument as an opportunity to ride to the Supreme Court, hoping the current, conservative bench would give states greater control over immigration. In his letter to Biden, Abbott seemed to nod to that faction of his party.
The buoys’ deployment has attracted considerable attention. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) referred to them as “drowning devices,” while the DOJ sent Abbott a letter on Friday threatening a lawsuit to remove them. The Government of Mexico reportedly sent Abbott a complaint letter last month asking for the buoys to be taken away.
“If you truly care about human life, you must begin enforcing federal immigration laws,” Abbott wrote to Biden. “By doing so, you can help me stop migrants from wagering their lives in the waters of the Rio Grande River.”
Abbott has devoted his governorship to taking steps — both rhetorical and actual — towards portraying the U.S.-Mexico border as under assault, and acting in accordance with that. Last year, Abbott caused fruit spoilage nationwide by adding state-level import checks to the border; he’s also spent hundreds of millions of dollars on building a few dozen miles of border wall.
Last month, Abbott’s government deployed the inflatable buoy barriers along the Rio Grande, which it bought from a South African firm called Cochrane. The company specializes in selling various types of military-grade barriers. Those include buoys, which Cochrane advertises as having spikes.
Texas does not appear to have purchased the Cochrane buoys with the spike option, instead leaving migrants to slip on the rubbery exterior. One anonymous official told the far-right Center for Immigration Studies last month that state officials are aware that the design is not foolproof: migrants could swim underneath.
“The whole design is to block the thousands, not the one,” CIS quoted the person as saying.
It’s not the anti-migrant buoy idea’s first time under consideration as a means to halt migration.
In June 2020, Cochrane previewed the buoys for Trump administration border enforcement officials. Images posted by the then-chief of the U.S. Border Patrol Academy, which were then deleted, showed Cochrane’s spiked buoys in a giant pool.
In August 2020, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers launched a market survey for information about a buoy barrier. The design it wanted, the proposal read, should be able to “mitigate the ability of swimmers to climb/jump onto the top of the buoy from the water or a boat and must include a component (such as an anti-dive mesh) that would impede incursions and/or breaching via underwater diving while minimizing debris build-up.”
That proposal apparently went nowhere, with the Trump administration leaving office before any federal contracts to provide a buoy wall were signed.
It’s Abbott, then, who, years later, opted to purchase and place the buoys, describing them as a means of “deterrence” for would-be migrants.
The DOJ said in its Friday letter that it believes the buoys present a danger to public safety, navigation, and humanitarian concerns, and said that if Abbott did not remove them, it would ask a court to order their removal.
The invasion rhetoric that Abbott and his supporters have used has allowed the state to contemplate more extreme measures that, under the Constitution, are only taken by the federal government, including negotiating with Mexican officials and threatening to create a state-run deportation force. That theme came up again in Abbott’s response to the administration, with the governor arguing his state was using its “constitutional authority,” saying that the state had a “sovereign interest in protecting [her] borders” — and alluded to Arizona v. U.S., a case in which Arizona made a similar argument, and, in 2012, lost before a considerably less conservative Supreme Court.
Apart from providing a legal rationale for action, the rhetoric also conflates migrants coming for economic needs with foot soldiers of multinational drug cartels, hell-bent in the right-wing’s telling on spreading fentanyl to the United States.
Until now, the Biden administration has mostly held back on taking the bait. The DOJ gave Abbott a 1 p.m. deadline to remove the barriers.
Abbott chose instead to reply to President Biden with the Monday letter, saying that “Texas would see you in court, Mr. President.”