The governor of Texas announced the state will install a barrier made of buoys along a section of the Rio Grande where people often wade or swim across the treacherous river from Mexico seeking refuge in the US, as the state committed $5.1bn towards ramping up plans to thwart border crossings.
Greg Abbott said a “new, water-based barrier of buoys” will be placed in the river. At a press conference he showed a line of large red buoys floating in the center of the Rio Grande.
The installation of the buoys would begin “pretty much immediately”, Abbott said on Thursday, in what is the latest step in Republicans’ campaign against immigration.
Republican governors from 14 states have already said they would send thousands of national guard troops and other personnel to the Texas-Mexico border, in an orchestrated effort that immigration advocates said would “put migrants’ lives at risk”.
Abbott said the huge buoys, which are four to six feet high, “will allow us to prevent people from even getting to the border”.
“We can put mile after mile after mile of these buoys” in different areas, Abbott said. There will be webbing underneath the buoys to prevent people swimming under them, according to officials, and the buoys will be deployed “pretty much immediately”.
Rodolfo Rosales, Texas state director of the League of United Latin Americans Citizens, condemned Abbott’s plan.
“We view it as a chilling reminder of the extreme measures used throughout history by elected leaders against those they do not regard as human beings, seeking only to exterminate them, regardless of the means employed,” Rosales told CBS News.
“It is with profound horror and shame that we bear witness to the consideration of these measures, which are evidently intended as political theater but will undoubtedly result in the loss of innocent lives among the refugees seeking asylum in the United States,” he told the TV channel.
The buoy plan was announced as Abbott signed into law six bills which will target immigration, part of a $5.1bn package approved by the Texas legislature.
The buoys will be first deployed in Eagle Pass, Texas, officials said. That stretch of the Rio Grande is already treacherous: last September a local fire chief told the Guardian that about 30 bodies a month were being recovered from the river.
“We don’t want anybody to get hurt, in fact we want to prevent people from getting hurt, prevent people from drowning,” Steven McCraw, the director of the Texas department of public safety, said at the press conference on Thursday.
A board next to McCraw and Abbott showed an aerial photo of the buoys deployed across a narrow stretch of river. Another board showed several photos of people apparently attempting to get across the buoy barrier.
“The governor was also concerned about loss of life – is this going to be a risk to migrants coming across, family units, along those lines,” McCraw said.
“And the answer is any time they get in that water it’s a risk to the migrants. This is to deter them from even coming in the water.”
McCraw added: “This has been tested a number of times a number of ways by special operators, tactical operators, specialists with border control and because of the water and the buoyancy of these it’s very difficult to be able to go through these, very difficult to come over it.”
States including Florida, Arkansas, South Dakota and Tennessee have said they will send troops to Texas in an apparent effort to stem irregular immigration.
Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor who has made immigration a key part of his fledgling presidential campaign, has assigned 1,100 national guard officers and others – the most of any state.
“Unfortunately, both Governors DeSantis and Abbott have used tools of intimidation in many different fashions through the past couple of years and put migrants’ lives at risk in doing so to win political points,” Hanne Sandison, director of the refugee and immigrant program at the Advocates for Human Rights non-profit, told the Guardian .
Immigration advocates have long argued that it is the US’s depriving migrants of their right to request asylum that forces them to take various, more dangerous measures.