July 24, 2023 -EAGLE PASS, Texas (AP) — Wrecking ball-sized buoys on the Rio Grande. Razor wire strung across private property without permission. Bulldozers changing the very terrain of America’s southern border.
For more than two years, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has escalated measures to keep migrants from entering the U.S., pushing legal boundaries with a go-it-alone bravado along the state’s 1,200-mile (1,930-kilometer) border with Mexico. Now blowback over the tactics is widening, including from within Texas.
A state trooper’s account of officers denying migrants water in 100-degree Fahrenheit (37.7 Celsius) temperatures and razor wire leaving asylum-seekers bloodied has prompted renewed criticism. The Mexican government, some Texas residents along the border and the Biden administration are pushing back. On Monday, the U.S. Justice Department sued Abbott over the buoy barrier that it says raises humanitarian and environmental concerns, asking a federal court to require Texas to dismantle it.
Abbott, who cruised to a third term in November while promising tougher border crackdowns, has used disaster declarations as the legal bedrock for some measures.
Critics call that a warped view.
“There are so many ways that what Texas is doing right now is just flagrantly illegal,” said David Donatti, an attorney for the Texas American Civil Liberties Union.
Abbott did not respond to requests for comment. He has repeatedly attacked President Joe Biden’s border policies, tweeting Friday that they “encourage migrants to risk their lives crossing illegally through the Rio Grande, instead of safely and legally over a bridge.”
The Biden administration has said illegal border crossings have declined significantly since new immigration rules took effect in May.
Under the international bridge connecting Eagle Pass, Texas, with Piedras Negras, Mexico, protesters gathered at Shelby Park this month, chanting “Save the river” and blowing a conch shell in a ceremony. A few yards away, crews unloaded neon-orange buoys from trailers parked by a boat ramp off the Rio Grande.
Jessie Fuentes stood with the environmental advocates, watching as state troopers restricted access to the water where he holds an annual kayak race. Shipping containers and layers of concertina wire lined the riverbank.
The experienced kayaker often took clients and race participants into the water through a shallow channel formed by a border island covered in verdant brush. That has been replaced by a bulldozed stretch of barren land connected to the mainland and fortified with razor wire.