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Body of Migrant Found in Texas’ Buoy Barrier in Rio Grande

The body of a person who drowned in the Rio Grande was found Wednesday in the floating barrier of buoys installed by the state of Texas to deter migrant crossings from Mexico, officials said.

It was not immediately clear how the person, who was not identified, ended up in the barrier, which runs roughly 1,000 feet in the middle of the river in the small border city of Eagle Pass. Mexican officials said in a statement that they had been alerted by the Texas state police around 2:35 p.m. that the body had been discovered ”caught in the southern part of the buoys.”

Officials from the Texas Department of Public Safety, whose officers patrol the banks of the river around the barrier, said that the person appeared to have drowned further up the river, then floated down.

“Preliminary information suggests this individual drowned upstream from the marine barrier and floated into the buoys,” said Steve McCraw, the director of the Department of Public Safety. “There are personnel posted at the marine barrier at all times in case any migrants try to cross.”

A spokesman for the department said the body was found on the Mexican side of the barrier and that Mexican officials had recovered it.

The Mexican government has objected to the placement of the buoys in the river, which were installed without federal approval last month by Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas as part of his multibillion dollar program to use state law enforcement to deter illegal crossings from Mexico.

“The placement of chained buoys by Texas authorities is a violation of our sovereignty,” the Mexican Foreign Ministry wrote in its statement on the drowning. “We express our concern about the impact on the human rights and personal safety of migrants of these state policies.”

Under another part of Mr. Abbott’s program, known as Operation Lone Star, migrants who make it across the river and onto private land in Texas have been arrested and charged with criminal trespassing by the state police.

Officers in recent weeks have begun arresting some men who were traveling with their children, separating them from women and the children, who were sent to Customs and Border Protection for processing.

Previously, the state had refrained from arresting any member of migrant families if the children were under 18 years old.

“In the past, they didn’t want to break up family units,” said Kristin Etter, a lawyer with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid who represents migrants charged with trespassing under Operation Lone Star. “The policy change is to now to arrest the father and separate the family.”

“We’re aware of 26,” she said of the men separated from their families. “But I’m sure there are a lot more out there. That’s just clients that we know of.”

State police officials acknowledged some instances in which fathers were separated from their children, but said children in those cases remained with their mothers and were turned over to the Border Patrol. The change was reported in the Houston Chronicle.

Despite objections from immigrant rights advocates as well as Democrats in Texas and in Washington, the Biden administration has mostly avoided a direct confrontation with Mr. Abbott over his stepped-up actions at the border, which began after President Biden took office.

But after the installation of the buoy barrier, the federal government filed suit, arguing that the barrier in the Rio Grande violated federal law and had prompted diplomatic protests by Mexico. It has asked a court to force him to remove the buoys, arguing that they create additional dangers for migrants seeking to cross the Rio Grande, whose fluctuating waters have been responsible for dozens of migrant drownings in recent years.

Border Patrol officials in the area of Eagle Pass have complained that steps taken by Mr. Abbott, including the installation of the buoy barriers and the unfurling of miles of concertina wire along the river bank, have made it more difficult for border agents to assist migrants in distress.

A ruling in the federal lawsuit was expected as early as next week.

Local officials had remarked on the relative lack of reported drownings in the last two weeks, said Sheriff Tom Schmerber of Maverick County, which includes Eagle Pass. Then the sheriff said he received a call on Wednesday afternoon about the body. He said he was told that a person had drowned while crossing near International Bridge 1, which is upstream from the buoy barrier. It was the only report of a drowning he received though he said another migrant was found dead on a ranch in the county on Wednesday.

Though there had been some reports that two bodies had been found in the river, the Department of Public Safety spokesman, Travis Considine, said the body in the buoy barrier was the only one found in the river by Texas state police on Wednesday.

Valeria Wheeler, the executive director of Mission Border Hope, a respite center in Eagle Pass, says that drownings are a common cause of death among people attempting to cross the Rio Grande. She often hears from migrants who arrive at the center and tell harrowing stories of watching others drown, she said.

“That’s something that happens very often, even before those measures were put in place,” Ms. Wheeler said, referring to the buoys and razor wire installed by Texas. “It’s awful.”

Edgar Sandoval contributed reporting.

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