BORDER SECURITYTexas to Deploy Buoys to Deter Rio Grande Crossings, Gov. Abbott Announces

By Zach Despart and Patrick Svitek

Published 9 June 2023

The governor revealed plans for a floating river barrier at a Capitol signing ceremony for six new laws related to border security. The first 1,000-foot section will be set up near Eagle Pass.

Texas authorities will begin deploying chains of specially designed buoys down the middle of the Rio Grande to deter migrants from crossing illegally, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday.

Abbott broke the news at a ceremony at the Capitol, where he signed six bills related to border security, including legislation that gives more power to federal agents to arrest and search migrants suspected of committing state crimes, authorizes the use of drones for border surveillance and provides compensation to farmers and ranchers whose land is damaged by migrants.

The governor, who regularly accuses the Democratic Biden administration of not doing enough to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, said the buoys would supplement other measures the state is taking, including the deployment of National Guard troops and the installation of concertina wire.

“We’re securing the border at the border,” Abbott said. “What these buoys will allow us to do is prevent people from getting to the border.”

Steve McCraw, director of the state’s Department of Public Safety, said the first 1,000 feet of buoys are being deployed near Eagle Pass because of an uptick in illegal crossings in the Maverick County area. He said the buoys, which can be moved to other locations as needed, are intended to deter migrants from attempting to cross the river, which is deep and fast-flowing in spots.

“Nobody needs to come between the ports of entry. It’s dangerous,” McCraw said. “Family units who come across … are risking themselves and their family members.”

A Texas National Guard soldier from Arlington drowned last year in Eagle Pass while attempting to rescue migrants in the river.

During the regular legislative session that ended in May, the Legislature approved $5.5 billion for border security measures. The other three bills Abbott signed Thursday allow Texas to more easily establish border security partnerships with other states, improve training of local police officers and designate Mexican drug cartels as “foreign terrorist organizations” under state law.

Abbott’s news conference came amid a special legislative session where lawmakers have deadlocked over the governor’s call for property tax relief, but they’re also at odds over his special-session agenda item on border security — and Abbott showed little interest in taking sides Thursday.

Abbott asked lawmakers for legislation increasing penalties for human smuggling, and the two chambers have passed different versions of the proposal. One sticking point is whether to allow a lower minimum sentence if a defendant cooperates with police.

“In a way, this is just like the property-tax issue,” Abbott said. “The House and Senate are very close, and there’s no reason the House and Senate cannot quickly come together on all of those issues and get them to my desk.”

Last week, the House swiftly passed the proposals Abbott wanted, then adjourned.

The Senate, however, has remained in session while insisting on a method of property tax relief that is not on Abbott’s agenda. At the same time, the Senate has sought to one-up the House — and build pressure on Abbott — by approving border-security measures that go beyond the scope of the governor’s special-session agenda.

Abbott made clear Thursday he will not budge on his agenda, which calls for only the anti-smuggling bill.

“I’ve been abundantly clear to members of the Legislature and to the public,” Abbott said. “I put items on this call for certain purposes because I want these items passed. And there’ll be nothing else added to any special-session item until the items that I put on the call this session are passed.”

Zach Despart is a politics reporter for The Texas Tribune. Patrick Svitek is the primary political correspondent for The Texas Tribune. This story is published courtesy of the Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.