Wrecking ball-sized buoys on the Rio Grande. Razor wire strung across private property without permission. Bulldozers changing the very terrain of the southern US border.
For more than two years, Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott has escalated measures to keep migrants from entering the United States, pushing legal boundaries with a go-it-alone bravado along the state’s 1,930km (1,200-mile) border with Mexico.
Now blowback over the tactics is widening, including from within Texas.
A state trooper’s account of officers denying migrants water in temperatures of 37.7 Celsius (100 Fahrenheit) and razor wire leaving asylum seekers bloodied has prompted renewed criticism.
The Mexican government, residents and the administration of US President Joe Biden are pushing back, with the US Department of Justice threatening to sue Texas unless steps are taken on Monday to begin removing the floating barrier.
Abbott struck a defiant tone on Monday morning, blaming Biden for increased arrivals at the border and telling the president “Texas will see you in court.”
“To end the risk that migrants will be harmed crossing the border illegally, you must fully enforce the laws of the United States that prohibit illegal immigration between ports of entry,” the governor wrote in a letter (PDF) to Biden.
“In the meantime, Texas will fully utilize its constitutional authority to deal with the crisis you have caused.”
The International Boundary and Water Commission says it was not notified when Texas modified several islands and deployed the massive buoys to create a barrier covering 305m (1,000 feet) of the middle of the Rio Grande, with anchors in the river’s bed.
The floating barrier also provoked tensions with Mexico, which says it violates treaties. Mexico’s secretary of foreign relations asked the US government to remove the buoys and razor wire in a June letter.
Hugo Urbina, owner of Heavenly Farms in Eagle Pass, worked with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) when the agency built a fence on his property and arrested migrants and asylum seekers for trespassing.
But the relationship turned acrimonious a year later, after the DPS asked to put up concertina wire on riverfront property that the Urbinas were leasing to the US Border Patrol to process immigrants.
Urbina wanted the DPS to sign a lease releasing him from liability if the wire caused injuries. The DPS declined, but still installed concertina wire, moved vehicles onto the property and shut the Urbinas’ gates.
The DPS works with 300 landowners, according to regional director Victor Escalon. He said it is unusual for the department to take over a property without the landowner’s consent, but the Disaster Act provides the authority.
Urbina said he supports the governor’s efforts, “but not in this way”.
“You don’t go out there and start breaking the law and start making your citizens feel like they’re second-hand citizens,” he said.