Abbott’s Buoy Barrier System in Texas Criticized by Lawmakers for Safety Concerns and Potential International Law Violations

A group of Texas Democrats is urging the White House to investigate Governor Greg Abbott’s use of floating aquatic barriers on the Rio Grande, which they consider to be a dangerous tactic. Governor Abbott recently announced the arrival of large orange buoys in Eagle Pass, Texas, and immediate installation would commence under the supervision of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). Concrete has been laid on the riverbed to anchor a 1,000-foot-long string of these buoys. The buoys are part of Governor Abbott’s border security initiative, Operation Lone Star, which involves deploying DPS troopers, Texas Army National Guard members, and transporting migrants to Democratic-led cities. Environmentalists are concerned about the installation of buoys in the middle of the Rio Grande.

Texas lawmakers, led by U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar, have written a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, accusing Governor Abbott of engaging in political maneuvers, undermining the federal government, and misusing state resources to interfere with federal immigration and security responsibilities. They argue that Governor Abbott failed to notify and collaborate with the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The lawmakers claim that the barriers may violate international law.

In the letter, the lawmakers outline possible violations, stating that Governor Abbott may be trespassing on IBWC property and violating the Boundary Treaty of 1970 and the Mexican Water Treaty of 1944. They suggest that by placing buoys in the river, Governor Abbott may be altering the natural flow of the river, potentially shifting the boundary between Mexico and the United States and causing the United States to cede land to Mexico. They also assert that the buoys may impede navigation of the river, hindering both the United States and Mexico, potentially violating the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The lawmakers urge the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of State (DOS) to take immediate action to address these potential violations and obstructionism.

The letter comes after Governor Abbott tweeted a picture of crews installing the buoys in waist-high water, stating that Texas would use every tool and strategy to respond to the border crisis. The buoys, when combined with concertina wire on the riverbank, will create a layering effect, according to a DPS spokesman. The IBWC has expressed surprise at Governor Abbott’s plans and is currently studying the proposal to determine its impact on their mission regarding border delineation, flood control, and water distribution in the Rio Grande.

In 2020, the Department of Homeland Security chose not to purchase the buoy barrier system due to concerns about the safety of federal law enforcement agents and the increased risk of drowning for migrants. The decision followed a demonstration of the buoy barrier by its manufacturer, Cochrane. The letter to the DOJ and DOS was signed by U.S. Representatives Escobar, Crockett, Allred, Garcia, Casar, Veasey, Green, and Castro.


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