People express concerns after installation of buoys and razor wire on border by Texas

Published: Jul. 20, 2023 at 11:02 AM EDT
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(CNN) - The Justice Department is assessing the situation along the Texas-Mexico border after a disturbing new report.

It alleges Texas State Troopers were told to push migrants back into the Rio Grande and ordered not to give them water.

This could be the first step toward opening an investigation.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has deployed concertina wire, shipping containers and, most recently, 1,000 feet of floating border barrier and netting on the river.

The buoys are 4 feet in diameter and anchored to the bottom of the waterway.

“You’re in the middle of the Rio Grande … the river that I love,” said Jessie Fuentes, a Texas business owner who grew up riding the waters of the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas.

Migrants trying to enter the U.S. from Mexico approach the site where workers are assembling...
Migrants trying to enter the U.S. from Mexico approach the site where workers are assembling large buoys to be used as a border barrier along the banks of the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas, Tuesday, July 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)(AP)

In 2015 he turned his passion into a business, launching Epi’s Canoe and Kayak.

He said the business “was beautiful.” Fuentes even organized races on the river, but not anymore.

“(It is) a strategy that no state has ever before deployed to stop people from entering Texas illegally,” Abbott said.

The state didn’t exactly follow the law when it started installing the buoys on the river.

According to the State Department, a series of treaties between the U.S. and Mexico governs the use of the water on the Rio Grande, and Texas not only didn’t consult with the federal government before installing the buoys, it also didn’t obtain a permit.

“It used to be a beautiful, pristine island,” Fuentes said, pointing to an island on the river he said Texas also destroyed.

The island is gone. The vegetation is dead, a road and concertina wire taking its place.

“It made me want to cry. It was sad,” Fuentes said.

Fuentes filed a lawsuit, claiming the buoys will prevent him from making a living.

And Mexico’s top diplomat complained to Washington, saying the buoys violate two treaties between the countries, including one that prohibits construction that deflects or obstructs the flow of the river.

Mexico is also concerned the buoys may be on their territory.

“This is our property,” said Magali Urbina, a Texas land owner.

Magali and Hugo Urbina said they, too, have complained about Texas but for installing concertina wire on their land and for refusing to remove it.

“Has DPS taking control of our entire property? Yes. Are we supportive of it? No, we’re not,” Hugo Urbina said.

But the most alarming part of it all is what they say they witnessed: migrants needing help and Texas National Guard members just standing there.

“I asked, ‘Aren’t you all going to help? They just sat there and said, ‘We can’t. We can’t get on property and they told us not even to give them water.’ I said, ‘Fine.’ And I just turned around and we just kept helping people out,” Magali Urbina said.

The Texas National Guard denies the allegations.

The Urbinas’ account comes after the Texas Department of Public Safety released emails showing top brass acknowledging an increase in migrant injuries from concertina wire, a Texas State trooper blowing the whistle to superiors about a 19-year-old stuck on the wire while “having a miscarriage,” a 4-year-year old passed out due to “exhaustion,” and about being ordered to push migrants back into the river and deny them water, allegations the agency denies.

Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber said he’s never witnessed state troopers mistreat migrants, but he said he’s worried the buoys could mean more migrant deaths.

“I hope that I’m wrong, but I think we’re going to have some some people drowning in that area,” he said.

“I want to be that voice for the river because the river can’t speak for itself,” Fuentes said.

When asked if he’s afraid of going against the state, he replied, “Am I afraid? Uh, No. Is my business suffering? Yeah. Is my heart suffering. Yes.”

In a joint statement, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the governor’s office said there have been no orders or directions that “would compromise the lives of those attempting to cross the border illegally.”