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Texas plans a floating barrier in the Rio Grande. Here's what we know about it

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (left) speaks about a new border security measure during a news conference at the Texas State Capitol on June 8.
Brandon Bell
/
Getty Images
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (left) speaks about a new border security measure during a news conference at the Texas State Capitol on June 8.

Gov. Greg Abbott plans to install a stretch of buoys on the river that divides his state and Mexico in an attempt to hinder migrants from crossing into Texas.

The Rio Grande is considered one of the deadliest routes for migrants. Over the years, hundreds of people, including babies and children, have died on the river, mainly from drowning in its turbulent current.

Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, described the floating barrier as a "proactive way" to prevent migrants from putting themselves at risk of drowning. But he also emphasized that the buoys will act as another layer of border security.

"What these buoys will allow us to do is to prevent people from even getting to the border," McCraw said at a border security bill signing ceremonyon Thursday.

But immigrant advocates say that many people who attempt to cross the Rio Grande do so because they know of very few options to reach the U.S.

"Abbott's latest stunt will make this situation even more dangerous and deadly," said Mary Miller Flowers, director of policy and legislative affairs at the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights.

Here is what to know about the upcoming floating border wall:

The floating barrier will be placed near Eagle Pass next month

Abbott's plan is to place a string of 4-foot-high, bright orange buoys in the middle of the Rio Grande, according to mock images shown at Thursday's news conference.

The floating barrier will span 1,000 feet — covering a tiny fraction of the 1,254 miles the river spans along the Texas-Mexico border. But the barrier is movable and it will be "deployed strategically" in migrant crossing hotspots, Abbott said.

The first stretch of the buoys will be situated near Eagle Pass, which is known for being a busy migration point, in July. It is expected to cost about $1 million, according to McCraw.

A poster illustrating a new border security measure is displayed during a news conference at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on Thursday.
Brandon Bell / Getty Images
/
Getty Images
A poster illustrating a new border security measure is displayed during a news conference at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on Thursday.

It will still be possible to pass through the buoys

The floating border wall is not completely un-traversable. McCraw admitted that there are ways to overcome it with "great effort."

When asked if it's possible to swim under the buoys, McCraw said, "You can and you can't" — adding that there will be webbing attached to the barrier underwater. Regardless of these measures, the Rio Grande is notorious for its fast-flowing waters.

Abbott described the floating border as mainly designed to deter large groups of migrants from reaching Texas lines. He warned that it is only one of many barriers to entry.

"When we're dealing with 100 or 1,000 people, one of the goals is to slow down and deter as many of them as possible," Abbott said. "Some may eventually get to the border where they are going to face that multi-layered razor wire and a full force of national guard and DPS officers."

The floating wall may be expanded in the future

McCraw said the 1,000-foot barrier is only the first installment of the buoys and the measure could be expanded in the future "based upon the threat," though he did not explain what that threat is.

He added that the floating border is not a new idea, rather one that has already been reviewed by the U.S. Border Patrol.

"This was something that Border Patrol had already looked at, designed and even tested," McCraw said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission, which oversees water treaties between U.S. and Mexico, said the announcement caught them by "surprise." It's only recently the IBWC has have been speaking with Texas officials about what is allowed under federal law, Frank Fisher, a spokesperson for the commission, told NPR.

Fisher said the IBWC is now looking into Texas' proposal and how it may impact international agreements between the U.S. and Mexico.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.