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Wall Street Journal Headline Says It All: Abbott’s Unlawful Saw Blade Barrier “Fails to Deter Migrants”

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The headline from The Wall Street Journal says it all: “Texas ‘floating border wall’ fails to deter migrants.” The article details how the floating saw blades illegally installed in the Rio Grande as part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s multi-billion dollar Operation Lone Star scheme have failed to block desperate migrants from crossing into the U.S. The story provides the latest reminder that the GOP’s deterrence-only approach – where cruelty is the point – is a complete failure at the terms it sets for itself. 

“‘It’s a waste of money and far from effective,’ said Tom Schmerber, a Border Patrol veteran who serves as sheriff of Maverick County, where Eagle Pass is located,” The Wall Street Journal noted. “‘I see it as a political stunt.’” Norberto Muñoz, a Mexican scavenger who’s at the river’s banks every day, told the outlet that Abbott’s barrier is “useless.”

Fact check: true. 

The floating saw blades – along with the border wall boondoggles by both Abbott and former President Donald Trump – have not been based on sound policy, or even real policy. Recall that since Republicans turned the once-fringe border wall idea into a GOP mainstay, it hasn’t been about a physical structure, but a metaphor that brown and Black people don’t belong here and need to get out. The fact that the walls are a policy sham only reinforces the reality that they are backdrops for GOP xenophobic political theater. Thankfully, a court ruled this week that Texas must remove the barrier from the Rio Grande, though the legal fight is expected to continue since Abbott will likely seek a court friendlier to his nativism.

But even if these border barriers are a sham that have had zero policy success, it’s a sham that’s still resulting in dangerous consequences, which is a far more sinister goal intended by its proponents. Abbott’s floating barrier hasn’t stopped migrants, The Wall Street Journal continued, “but it has redirected them to more dangerous points on the river.”

The Rio Grande has already been a death trap for desperate migrants even before the saw blade barrier installation. “On Sept. 1 last year, 13 migrants drowned there,” MSNBC reported in July. “Earlier in 2022, authorities had recovered 12 bodies from the river in a single day.” Since the barrier’s installation, at least one deceased migrant has been found in the floating buoys.

Texas claimed the migrant drowned upstream and floated to the installation, and defended criticism of the installation by claiming that its goal is “to redirect migrants seeking asylum to legal ports of entry,” The Wall Street Journal continued. That’s a bold claim – Texas has been the leader of the GOP pack seeking to block a slew of policies aimed at alleviating border pressures and reunifying families. The Biden administration has said “the parole programs have reduced the number of migrants caught crossing in between ports of entry,” Roll Call recently reported.

Top (and bottom rung) Republican presidential candidates have used Trump’s border wall in particular to set the stage for xenophobic press conferences and recitation of white nationalist conspiracy theory that’s inspired multiple domestic terror attacks from El Paso to Buffalo. Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton have all echoed deadly white nationalist “invasion” conspiracy. Texas has in fact deployed this racist fiction as part of a debunked white nationalist legal theory to defend its Rio Grande barrier in court. The judge who ruled against Texas this week called that debunked legal theory “breathtaking.”

So while Texas has disavowed any claims that the floating saw blades have led to any deaths, the barrier is but one part of the white nationalist, anti-immigrant vision that continues to frame arriving migrant families as dire threats that must be met with deadly force. The predictable failure of this policy only makes this more egregious.     

The deadly violence pushed by Abbott is in no way an aberration to be dismissed. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has most recently sought to portray himself as an anti-immigrant hardliner for GOP primary audiences by pledging to leave Mexican drug lords “stone cold dead” at the border. We’ve noted he’s escalated this disturbing call in the past few days, including selling a “stone cold dead” t-shirt as part of a campaign fundraising appeal and a new ad that openly calls for violence at the border. 

“This political message is extremely dangerous and should not be overlooked when a leading contender for the White House is making deadly violence with coded racism,” tweeted America’s Voice Political Director Zachary Mueller. “It can have serious downstream consequences.” Read more about the DeSantis ad here.