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Mexico files complaint over US barrier plan on Rio Grande

July 15, 2023

Texas Governor Greg Abbott wants floating buoys put in the Rio Grande to deter migrants from crossing into the US. Migrant advocates denounced the plan, and Mexico said the barriers could breach bilateral treaties.

Guardsmen patrol as workers deploy large buoys to be used as a border barrier along the banks of the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas, Wednesday, July 12, 2023
Texas began erecting floating barriers in the Rio Grande this weekImage: Eric Gay/AP/picture-alliance

Mexico said Friday it has complained to the United States government over the deployment of floating barriers by the US state of Texas on the Rio Grande River.

The Rio Grande is 1,896 miles (3,051 kilometers) long, running from Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico and is the effective US-Mexican border through most of Texas.

Every day, hundreds of migrants attempt to cross the river to try to enter the United States. In response, Texas has begun a multibillion-dollar effort to shore up border security, which includes erecting buoys and barbed wire in the river.

What action has Mexico begun?

Mexican Foreign Minister Alicia Barcena said her country has formally complained to US authorities about the barrier plan.

Barcena questioned whether the barriers could impede the flow of water in the river, which she said would violate bilateral 1944 and 1970 treaties on boundaries and water.

The treaties require that the river remain unobstructed.

"We have sent a diplomatic letter [to the US] on 26 June because in reality what it is violating is the water treaty of 1944," she told reporters in Mexico City.

Barcena added that Mexico would send an inspection team to the Rio Grande to see whether any of the barrier extends into Mexico's side of the border river.

She also complained about US efforts to put up barbed wire on a low-lying island in the river near Eagle Pass, Texas.

The US State Department and the office of Texas Governor Greg Abbott did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

El Paso shelters brace for migration surge

What is Texas doing?

Last month, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered the construction of the floating barrier off the town of Eagle Pass to make border crossings more difficult.

"In addition to razor wire, we now have buoys in the water to prevent people from even crossing the middle part of the Rio Grande River and coming into the state of Texas," Abbott told Fox News.

Many migrants have drowned trying to cross the rivers, and some experts fear the buoys may only increase the risk to life.

Earlier this month, four migrants drowned in the Rio Grande and last September nine migrants died and 37 were rescued as they tried to cross the rain-swollen river near Eagle Pass.

Other experts have questioned the environmental impact on the river from the barriers.

Once installed, the above-river parts of the system and the webbing they're connected with will cover 1,000 feet (305 meters) of the middle of the Rio Grande, with anchors in the riverbed.

As well as Mexico's complaint, a Texas businessman has filed a lawsuit against the barriers, saying it will hurt his firm's river tours.

Abbott regularly accuses US President Joe Biden of failing to stem the flow of undocumented migrants entering the country. 

The Texas governor's multibillion-dollar effort to fortify the US border also includes busing migrants to liberal-run US states and authorizing the National Guard to make arrests.

Immigrants step across the Rio Grande from Mexico into the United States on May 11, 2023 in El Paso, Texas
The Rio Grande has become a major migration route into the United StatesImage: JOHN MOORE/Getty Images/AFP

Mexico is a key stop for people trying to reach the US from Central and South America —  many fleeing poverty, violence and political crises in their home countries.

Between October 2021 and October 2022, the US Border Patrol recorded more than 2 million attempts to reach the US.

mm/sms (AP, dpa, Reuters)