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Texas retrieves anti-migrant buoys that moved to Mexico's side of the Rio Grande

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Hearings begin today over the legality of a string of buoys in the Rio Grande. The Justice Department is suing Texas, which is using the barrier to deter migrants from crossing the river into the U.S. The buoys have also caused some diplomatic tension between the U.S. and Mexico, which Texas Governor Greg Abbott spoke about yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG ABBOTT: The buoys had drifted toward the Mexico side. And so out of an abundance of caution, Texas went back and moved the buoys into a location where it is clear that they are on the United States side, not on the Mexico side.

MARTÍNEZ: Joining us now from Texas Public Radio in San Antonio is David Martin Davies. You've seen these buoys firsthand. Tell us about those.

DAVID MARTIN DAVIES: Well, I went to see them while I was on a reporting trip kayaking down the Rio Grande. Each orange ball is four foot in diameter, has a sort of a circular saw blade in between each of the buoys. And the water that they're in is just about shin-deep. So right now, there's roughly 1,000 feet of the buoys in the water.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. A saw blade, my goodness. All right. So what's the significance then of the buoys being on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande?

DAVIES: Well, the barrier has really ticked off Mexico. They're not happy that it was in their sovereign territory. So Texas moving them back appears to be an attempt to placate the Mexican government. But this does come at a time when U.S. relations with Mexico is critical. Mexico is pledging that they're going to do a lot more to stop the flow of the narcotic fentanyl flowing across the border. This is a huge crisis for the United States. So keeping Mexico acting in good faith as a partner in this is a priority. But moving the buoys closer to Texas is not going to take care of the main issue of this lawsuit.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, yeah. So what's at stake then with this lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice against the state of Texas?

DAVIES: Well, the crux of the lawsuit is, who controls the southern border? Is it going to be states like Texas, or is it going to be the federal government? Typically, the authority has been with the feds. But Governor Abbott is arguing that the Biden administration is ignoring the border. Abbott says Texas is being invaded by illegal immigrants, and he wants to put miles and miles of these buoys in the Rio Grande. And yesterday the Republican governors of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Oklahoma visited Abbott on the border for a helicopter tour. And they all came away saying things like, quote, "this is a war zone." And now how every state is now a border state because of the Biden administration's policies of, quote, "abandoning the border." Now, to be clear, none of that is true. And a majority of immigrants are asylum seekers and refugees. The buoy lawsuit is likely to drag on for a while. No doubt it will continue to be a major political issue as we roll into the 2024 presidential election. Abbott - he's not up for reelection, but exploiting the insecurities about the southern border is part of the Republican playbook. So we've gone from, build that wall, to, float that ball.

MARTÍNEZ: David Martin Davies of Texas Public Radio, thanks for your reporting.

DAVIES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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David Martin Davies
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.