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Child from Honduras is one of two people dead on or near Texas’ anti-migrant border buoys

Migrants walk by a string of buoys placed on the water along the Rio Grande border with Mexico on July 16 in Eagle Pass, Texas.  (SUZANNE CORDEIRO/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Aarón Torres, Todd J. Gillman and Alfredo Corchado Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – A child from Honduras was one of two people found dead on or near the buoy barrier Texas installed in the Rio Grande to deter migrants, Mexican officials said Thursday, a growing toll that critics blamed on Gov. Greg Abbott’s “barbaric” border security tactics.

“No good person would do this,” Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said at his daily news conference. “This is inhumane and no person should be treated like this.”

The Texas Department of Public Safety denied that either migrant died by getting entangled in barriers Texas installed in recent weeks. The governor’s office emphasized that the child’s death occurred miles upstream.

“The Mexican government is flat-out wrong,” said Abbott spokesman Andrew Mahaleris. “Unfortunately, drownings in the Rio Grande by people attempting to cross illegally are all too common.

Mexico’s foreign ministry announced the deaths near Eagle Pass – the first linked to the new 1,000-foot barriers – on Wednesday and confirmed Thursday that one of the bodies was that of a boy from Honduras. The boy’s mother, sobbing on local TV that night, said she recognized her son from his T-shirt and shoes.

Roughly three miles downstream another person’s body was spotted, caught in the barrier that critics viewed as “death traps” sure to cause tragedy in the name of security.

Abbott’s “barrel traps have caused an asylum seeker to drown. The Texas Governor is knowingly trying to injure, maim and kill migrants seeking asylum in the United States with razor wire and drowning devices,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, posted on social media. “Barbaric.”

At Casa Dignidad, a migrant shelter in Piedras Negras, Mexico, across the river from Eagle Pass, Sister Isabel Turcios lamented the deaths and chastised the governor.

“Abbott’s buoys are like a trap set for migrants,” she said. “This is a terrorizing situation. You don’t stop migration by setting death traps. … You treat humans like human beings, not like animals.”

But Mahaleris, the governor’s spokesman, noted that four migrants drowned in the river in early July, before the barriers were installed.

The deaths, he asserted, stem from “the reckless open border policies of President Biden and President López Obrador. In fact, before Texas deployed barriers, the United Nations declared the U.S.-Mexico border the deadliest land crossing in the world. If President Biden and President López Obrador truly cared about human life, they would do their jobs and secure the border.”

DPS director Steve McCraw said the victim found stuck to the buoys was already dead when he got there.

“Preliminary information suggests this individual drowned upstream from the marine barrier and floated into the buoys,” he said in a statement. “There are personnel posted at the marine barrier at all times in case any migrants try to cross.”

Announcing the barriers in June, Abbott said the goal was to stop migrants from considering crossing the river. He has defended the hazard the buoys might pose by noting that migrants don’t risk drowning if they only cross at official points of entry.

“Nobody drowns on a bridge,” the governor wrote last month to President Joe Biden, rejecting a Justice Department demand to remove the barriers.

Construction began four weeks ago, as the latest escalation in Abbott’s $10 billion border security effort dubbed Operation Lone Star, which includes deployments of state troopers and National Guard.

On July 24, the Justice Department asked a federal court to order Texas to remove the barriers, arguing they were installed without the permits required before construction in a navigable waterway. The judge has not yet ruled on the request.

The barriers comprise buoys 4-feet in diameter, strung together in lengths of 1,000 feet. They are not wrapped in razor wire as early reports indicated, but there are sharp metal strips between each one, ensuring cuts for anyone who might try to climb through the narrow gap.

“This tragic loss is the inevitable result of Greg Abbott’s cruel, dangerous border policies that disregard human life,” said U.S. Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Texas. “Drowning desperate migrants and their children is not the solution to our immigration problems.”

On Wednesday, Mexico’s Foreign Secretary Alicia Bárcena said the Texas DPS had alerted the consulate in Eagle Pass that a dead person was found stuck to the nearby barrier.

DPS spokesman Travis Considine echoed that version of events, saying Thursday the agency received a report “of a possible drowning victim floating upstream from the marine barrier. DPS then notified U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Mexican Consulate. Later that day a body was discovered at the marine barrier.”

The Mexican foreign ministry later reported the discovery of the second body, the Honduran boy, upriver. DPS officials said Thursday they weren’t aware of that second death.

It’s unclear how either person died. Mexican officials were working to identify the victims and where they had come from.

Apart from the buoys, which are anchored to the riverbed, Texas has placed about 60 miles of razor wire along its bank of the Rio Grande.

Bárcena reiterated Mexico’s complaint that the buoys violate her country’s sovereignty, and pose a threat to human rights and migrant safety.

Mexico and the U.S. State Department both deem the barriers installed by Texas a violation of treaties the two countries signed in 1944 and 1970.

The federal government has sole authority over foreign affairs and U.S. immigration policy, and is also responsible for border security.

Abbott and other conservatives say Biden’s weak enforcement policies have left the border wide open, justifying the state to fill the vacuum.

Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, called the deaths “the inevitable outcome of Greg Abbott’s godless actions. … This is a dark day for Texas … and I am deeply ashamed as a Texan.”