Mexico Issues a Formal Complaint over Texas’ Buoy-Barrier
FAIR Take | July 2023
Two weeks ago, the government of Mexico sent a formal complaint against the floating barrier Texas is installing in the Rio Grande. In the complaint, sent as a diplomatic note, Mexico alleges that the barrier and the razor wire installed on a Rio Grande island are illegal.
Texas began deploying the buoys earlier this month after Governor Greg Abbott’s announced the plan in June. The intent is to install a 1,000-foot string of floating buoys in the Eagle Pass area that would be anchored to the river bed along the Rio Grande between Texas and Mexico. The purpose of the barrier is to do what the Biden administration has been refusing to effectively do – secure the border and deter mass illegal migration.
The buoys function by rotating when an individual attempts to illegally cross the river, thereby at the very least slowing down unauthorized border crossers trying to violate the United States’ laws and borders. According to Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the buoy chain is a “proactive way” to deter illegal crossings and save lives by “prevent[ing] people from even getting to the border.”
The complaint was filed by Mexico’s new minister of foreign affairs, Alicia Barcena, who was appointed by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) in mid-June. A Mexican government press release claims that the buoy barrier and razor wire on the Rio Grande island violate international laws and agreements. Specifically, the Mexican Government points to Article 17 of the International Waters Treaty of 1944, which establishes that the “use of the bed of international rivers for the discharge of flood waters or other surpluses will be free,” and Article IV B.1 of the 1970 Boundary Treaty, which states that “both in the main channel of the river and in adjacent lands, up to a distance on each side of the international boundary that the Commission recommends and the two Governments approve, each Contracting State shall prohibit the construction of works in its territory that, in the opinion of the Commission, may cause diversion or obstruction of the normal flow of the river or its avenues.”
Mrs. Barcena also stated that Mexico will send an inspection team to the border to verify whether the barrier crosses over into the Mexican side of the Rio Grande.
It’s unclear whether Mexico’s claims are on solid legal footing. Some critics say Mexico’s arguments “defy belief” because the barrier lays parallel along the river, it floats, and has nothing to do with the flow of the water. More importantly, one could easily argue that Mexico should be barred from making complaints about a buoy system that would never be necessary if Mexico took any meaningful efforts to stop the flow of illegal migrants through its country.
In fact, Mexico’s complaint could be seen as a pretext to maintain the flow of migrants out of its country. Unlike two or three decades ago, most illegal border crossers are no longer Mexican citizens. Thus maintaining the flow of migrants out of Mexico into the U.S. helps the government avoid the responsibility of sheltering them and potentially granting them asylum. That would certainly explain why the Government of Mexico would go to such lengths to see the buoy system be taken down before it is even fully implemented. Indeed, enabling illegal migration to the U.S. has been Mexico City’s policy for decades (e.g., see here, here, and here) because it functions as a social safety valve lessening reform pressures on Mexico’s clearly corrupt and self-serving political elites. As historian Victor Davis Hanson described it two decades ago:
“Mexico’s policy for a half-century has been the deliberate and illegal export of millions of its poorest citizens to the United States, which is expected to educate, employ, and protect them in ways not possible at home. Only that way has the chronically corrupt Mexican government avoided a revolution, as its exploited underclass (…) headed north, rather than marching en masse on Mexico City. Only that way can billions of earned foreign currency be sent home to prop up a bankrupt economy; only that way for the first time in his life can a poor Mixtec from Michoacan find an advocate for his health and safety from the Mexican consulate—once he is safely ensconced far north of the border.”
Similarly, Mexico has allowed droves of non-Mexican nationals from all over Central and South America and the world to use its territory as a launching pad for illegal border crossings into the U.S., a policy that disrespects and violates American sovereignty. While this certainly benefits the powerful but extremely dangerous cartels, who profit handsomely from human smuggling, it is unclear what benefit it carries for the average Mexican citizen. In fact, one can argue that, by strengthening the cartels, that effect is actually detrimental due to deteriorating public safety.
Of course, none of this is an unstoppable force of nature. Under the Trump administration – which was willing to get tough and utilize America’s plentiful economic leverage – the U.S. was able to secure Mexico’s cooperation in reducing and deterring mass illegal migration. However, given the Biden administration’s reluctance to secure the border and use deterrence, Mexico City feels sufficiently emboldened to return to its traditional policy of enabling illegal migration in the U.S. The AMLO administration can also feel reasonably assured that Team Biden will side with Mexico on the floating border barrier given that the Biden administration has been undermining the efforts of Governor Abbott to do a job that the federal government is legally and constitutionally required to do.