Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott rebuffed claims from the Mexican government that pinned the deaths of migrants this week on a buoy barrier installed by his state in the Rio Grande.
Two bodies, likely of migrants attempting to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border, were found Wednesday, one of which was recovered near buoys in the river that are a part of Abbott’s newly installed border barrier. The Mexican government was the first to inform the public about the incident and linked the deaths to the buoys, after which Abbott’s office rejected the explanation.
“The Mexican government is flat-out wrong,” said Abbott’s spokesman Andrew Mahaleris, according to the Washington Examiner. “To be clear, preliminary information points to the drowning occurring before the body was even near the barriers. The Texas Department of Public Safety previously reported to Border Patrol the dead body floating upstream from the barriers in the Rio Grande.”
The Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it was notified by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) about a “lifeless body caught in the southern part of the buoys.” Texas DPS Lt. Chris Olivarez, however, said the river’s stream moved the dead body “down into the buoy,” explaining that the buoy did not lead to the death, the Examiner reported. The 1,000-foot stretch of buoys is placed in a shallow area where it is easy to walk across the river, according to Olivarez.
“The water is between knee and waist level,” Olivarez said. “There’s no way the body would have drowned there. … There’s nothing in the buoy — no objects, no sharp objects, no wire, no hook.”
Olivarez said Mexico acknowledged the second body recovered was found “miles upstream from the marine barriers.”
Mexico claimed that Abbott’s barrier in the river is a “violation of our sovereignty.”
“We express our concern about the impact on the human rights and personal safety of immigrants that these state policies will have, which go in the opposite direction to the close collaboration between our country and the federal government of the United States,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
The U.S. government has also targeted Abbott for installing the buoys, filing a lawsuit against Texas last month. The Department of Justice claims that it was unlawful for Texas to put up the barriers and said there were humanitarian concerns.
“The floating barrier poses a risk to navigation, as well as public safety, in the Rio Grande River, and it presents humanitarian concerns,” a warning letter from the department said.
The DOJ lawsuit argues that Texas is violating the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899, a law that prohibits the “creation of any obstruction not affirmatively authorized by Congress, to the navigable capacity of any of the waters of the United States.”
Abbott’s office said migrant drownings happen all too often, in part, because of the Biden administration’s border policies.
“If President Biden and [Mexican] President Lopez Obrador truly cared about human life, they would do their jobs and secure the border,” Mahaleris said.
Leif Le Mahieu contributed to this report.