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A visit to the floating border wall installed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott


Two dead bodies were found last week in the Rio Grande River near the massive floating barrier that Texas installed to keep migrants from crossing from Mexico. One was found upstream from the barrier, the other along the large ball-shaped buoys that formed the barrier. The barrier is part of what Governor Greg Abbott calls Operation Lone Star, which also includes razor wire on the riverbank. Texas Public Radio's David Martin Davies takes us by kayak to visit the barrier and the people it's intended to keep out.

DAVID MARTIN DAVIES, BYLINE: It's 6 in the morning, and Jesse Fuentes is leading a fact-finding kayak group to see the Texas buoy barrier.

JESSE FUENTES: We're going to take our time. It should be a slow paddle, maybe about an hour.


DAVIES: 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 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 tell me they've been traveling for over a month and are exhausted. The 104-degree heat of the day saps their energy.

VIKKI GOODWIN: I think there's a better way, a more humanitarian way.

DAVIES: That's 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 infrastructure to help people enter Texas legally.

GOODWIN: They certainly wouldn't choose to cross a river that's bordered by razor wire.

DAVIES: Farther down river, 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.

FUENTES: I had to see it for myself.

DAVIES: This is the first time that Jesse Fuentes has seen the buoys, and he's taken aback.

FUENTES: Just cruelty. You saw it for yourself. Nothing but concertina, containers, ship car (ph), and now a buoy in the middle.

DAVIES: 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 prearranged break in the razor wire.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

DAVIES: 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.


DAVIES: But David Donatti of the Texas ACLU challenges the Guardsmen.

DAVID DONATTI: I basically demanded that they call federal Border Patrol because immigration enforcement is a federal prerogative.

DAVIES: The Texas agents cut and pull back the razor wire, and the families step onto Texas soil. Attorney Donatti leads them to the U.S. Border Patrol, where they're given water and allowed to rest in the shade. The families are soon taken away to make their asylum claims.

For NPR News, I'm David Martin Davies in Eagle Pass, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Martin Davies is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience covering Texas, the border and Mexico.