'Circular saw blades' divide controversial Rio Grande buoys installed by Texas governor

Locals and lawmakers have started getting a closer look at wrecking ball–size orange buoys Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) had installed — illegally, Mexico and the federal government say — along 1,000 feet of the Rio Grande river between Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras, Mexico. The controversial buoys are chained to the shallow bottom of the river with a net of cables, and you can't climb over them because they spin freely.

To make sure would-be asylum seekers don't climb between them, Texas Public Radio's David Martin Davies reported after a kayak trip to the barrier, "there are also serrated metal plates that look like circular saw blades between each buoy." That detail also stuck with Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) when they visited Eagle Pass on Tuesday. Garcia said she was "appalled" by Abbott's "cruel and inhumane tactics" and unsettled by the "buoys' true danger and brutality."

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"The state says they are not a danger to anybody — well I want you to look here at this chainsaw-type device right in the middle of these buoys," Castro said from Shelby Park, which Texas state troopers took over in June after Eagle Pass Mayor Mayor Rolando Salinas Jr. agreed — without approval from City Council — to declare it private property. Castro also said he saw clothing stuck to the miles of razor wire Abbott had installed along the river, including under the water's surface. "It's incredibly dangerous, incredibly inhumane, and it's the reason I've said that it's barbaric: because it is."

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Castro and Garcia are Democratic lawmakers, but Eagle Pass residents — even Republicans who voted for Abbott — have also "become uncomfortable with the state's tactics or have dropped their support of Abbott's efforts," The Texas Tribune reported. In late July, the City Council voted to rescind the agreement with the state, making Shelby Park public property again. "Obviously if it's inhumane, I'm not going to say, 'Yes, I'm totally for people getting cut [by razor wire],'" Mayor Salinas said before joining the unanimous vote.

For Magali Urbina, a Republican who owns a 400-acre pecan farm along the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, her support for Abbott's $10 billion Operation Lone Star border initiative soured when Texas troopers cut off her access to the river with razor wire, she told the Tribune. When she asked them to remove it from her property, they said no, Abbott's 2021 disaster declaration allows the state to use private property to protect Texas borders. The last straw was in late July, when she saw a pregnant woman emerge from the concertina wire with arms cut and bloodied.

The Justice Department sued Texas in July to have the buoys removed after Abbott refused to do so voluntarily. Texas officials have been warned repeatedly since at least December 2022 that barriers in and along the river violate federal law and international treaties with Mexico, The Dallas Morning News reported Tuesday.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.