The state of Texas will place a 1,000-foot floating barrier in the middle of the Rio Grande to prevent migrants from entering the United States, Gov. Greg Abbott said on Thursday, the latest in a series of escalating maneuvers by state leaders to address illegal crossings.
Mr. Abbott said the barrier, a floating border wall made up of four-foot-wide buoys, would be first placed in the water off the city of Eagle Pass, an already heavily fortified section of the border that Texas officials have said is a prime location for migrant crossings.
Though the floating barrier would cover only a small section of the 1,254-mile border in Texas, Mr. Abbott said the buoys could be moved to other hot spots and expanded in the future.
“We can put mile after mile after mile of these buoys,” Mr. Abbott said at a news conference, flanked by photos showing what the barrier would look like once deployed on July 7. “When we’re dealing with gatherings of 100 or 1,000, one of the goals is to slow down and deter as many of them as possible.”
The announcement from Mr. Abbott, a third-term Republican, was the latest effort by Republican state leaders to focus attention on the large numbers of migrants who are seeking asylum in the United States, many of them entering through Texas.
On Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida took credit for flying three dozen migrants on two recent charter flights from El Paso, Texas, to Sacramento, Calif., as part of an attempt to combat the immigrant-friendly policies of California Democrats that he said had “incentivized” more migrants to cross the border.
In recent weeks, more than a dozen Republican governors, including Mr. DeSantis and the governors of Ohio, South Carolina and Virginia, have sent local police and state National Guard members to the border with Mexico in response to a request from Mr. Abbott.
Some federal border restrictions that were lifted last month with the expiration of a Trump administration policy, begun during the pandemic, had resulted in rapid expulsions of many migrants under public health rules, but the change was accompanied by other new control measures and did not lead to a sharp increase in migration.
Still, Mr. Abbott and other Republican leaders have criticized the federal government and President Biden for not doing more to deter the arrival of thousands of migrants each day.
The buoy barrier joined other steps taken by Texas in its multibillion-dollar program to deter crossings, including the deployment of National Guard members and state police and the spreading of concertina wire along the banks of the Rio Grande. The Texas Legislature last month approved a two-year budget that included $5.1 billion in spending on border security.
The first stretch of floating barrier, built by Cochrane USA, would cost $1 million, said Steve McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Other versions of the barrier, though not those depicted in Mr. Abbott’s presentation, include spikes.
Officials in Eagle Pass, a small city that has struggled to accommodate the large number of arriving migrants, welcomed Mr. Abbott’s efforts.
“If this means less people will be crossing illegally through the heart of Eagle Pass, we support it,” said Rolando Salinas Jr., the mayor. “We want to avoid any interruption to our international bridges and our downtown businesses.”
Asked if he was concerned that the barrier may lead to dangerous conditions for those who attempt to swim, Mr. Salinas said that the Rio Grande was never meant to be an official crossing point. “People shouldn’t be crossing there to begin with,” he said.
Roberto De Leon, the chief deputy sheriff in Maverick County, which includes Eagle Pass, said that so many migrants had been drowning in their area that deputies have been pulling one or two dead bodies from the river each day.
“Anything that keeps us from finding a dead body on the side of the river, I’m for,” he said.
Officials on the Mexican side of the border, in the state of Coahuila, did not respond to a request for comment.
Immigration advocates in Texas said Gov. Abbott’s plans to add a barrier in the middle of the Rio Grande amounted to another political stunt at the expense of desperate people.
“He is using this as political theater, to promote his MAGA agenda, and it’s not going to stop people from coming,” said Rodolfo Rosales Jr., a state director with the Texas branch of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
Mr. McCraw said that the barrier had been tested and that, while there were some ways to get over it, it would be difficult.
Asked whether the barrier would create new dangers for migrants, particularly those with children, he said that it would keep families from entering the river. “This is a deterrent from even coming in the water,” Mr. McCraw said.
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