An up-close look at Gov. Greg Abbott's floating wall in the Rio Grande
EAGLE PASS, TX — It’s 6 a.m. and Jesse Fuentes is leading a fact-finding kayak group to see Gov. Greg Abbott’s floating border wall in Eagle Pass. The new centerpiece — his controversial Operation Lone Star 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.
Once in the water, we can 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, a hazard for anyone who might stumble upon it.
We soon come across people stranded in the water — migrants looking for an opening in the razor wire so they can enter Texas.
They say they’re from Venezuela. It’s several families with small children struggling to wade through the murky water.
They say they’ve been traveling for over a month and are exhausted. The 104-degree heat of the day saps their energy.
“I think there’s a better way—a more humanitarian way,” said State Representative Vikki Goodwin. She’s part of the fact-finding kayaking group.
The Austin Democrat says instead of spending billions 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, we reach 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.
And there are 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.
This is the first time he has seen the buoys up close and he’s 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 have been 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 is suing Governor Abbott, saying the buoys block navigable waterways, threaten public safety, and violate treaties with Mexico.
To exit the river, we move downstream to a pre-arranged break in the razor wire. And soon the migrant families we met upstream also arrive.
They, too, want out of the river. But they are stopped by Texas National Guardsmen, who quickly unspool fresh razor wire and hammer fence posts into the ground.
David Donatti of the Texas ACLU challenges the guardsmen.
“I basically demanded that they call federal border patrol because immigration enforcement is a federal prerogative,”
The Texas agents cut and pull back the razor wire and the migrants step onto Texas soil.
Attorney Donatti leads them to the U.S. Border Patrol where they are given water and allowed to rest in the shade.
The families are soon taken away to make their asylum claims. Copyright 2023 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.