A body was found along a floating barrier that was recently installed in the Rio Grande by Texas authorities as part of a bid to deter migrants from trying to cross into the U.S.
Authorities were still working to recover and identify the body spotted floating along the barrier, Mexico's foreign ministry said in a news release on Wednesday, the first time it has reported a death along the barrier. A cause of death had yet to be determined, it said.
“Preliminary information suggests this individual drowned upstream from the marine barrier and floated into the buoys,” said Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw. “There are personnel posted at the marine barrier at all times in case any migrants try to cross.”
In a separate news release on Thursday, the ministry said a second body had also been discovered upstream, about three miles away from where the first body was found. It was not clear whether the second body was found along the floating barrier.
The news comes just weeks after the barriers were installed last month across from Eagle Pass, Texas, in an effort to stop migrants from crossing the river. The move sparked backlash from both sides of the border, as well as lawsuit from the Justice Department.
Mexico's foreign ministry said it was initially alerted to the remains by Texas officials. The department, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's office and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency did not immediately respond to overnight requests for comment.
The reported discovery prompted fresh criticism from the Mexican government over the installment of the barriers, with its foreign ministry expressing concerns over the "impact" on migrants' human rights and safety. It added that such policies run counter to the close collaboration shared between the U.S. and Mexico federal governments.
The decision to install the barriers has faced blowback from the Biden administration, with the Justice Department filing a lawsuit against Texas and its Republican governor last week over the buoys.
The civil suit said Gov. Greg Abbott violated federal law by installing the floating barriers and asked a judge to order the defendants to “promptly remove the unauthorized obstruction” at their own expense.
The lawsuit cited the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899, which prohibits the “creation of any obstruction not affirmatively authorized by Congress, to the navigable capacity of any of the waters of the United States.”
It also alleged that Abbott failed to obtain a permit through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before installing the barrier in the Rio Grande as is required by federal law.
After being informed of the Justice Department's intent to sue, Abbott last week sent a letter to President Joe Biden accusing him of attempting to interfere in his state's "sovereign interest" in securing its border. "Texas will see you in court, Mr. President," he wrote.
Abbott also argued that the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act doesn’t apply to Texas’ actions. He further said that while he shares the Biden administration’s concern for migrants’ welfare, the president's “finger points in the wrong direction.”
“Neither of us wants to see another death in the Rio Grande River,” Abbott wrote. “Yet your open-border policies encourage migrants to risk their lives by crossing illegally through the water, instead of safely and legally at a port of entry. Nobody drowns on a bridge.”
When previously reached for comment about Abbott’s letter, a spokesperson for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division pointed to Monday’s lawsuit and declined further comment.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre accused Abbott at the time of “sowing chaos” and staging inhumane “political stunts.”
“He’s actively undermining our border enforcement plan,” she said, adding that illegal border crossings are at their lowest level since Biden took office.
Abbott, she said, is “not operating in good faith here."
In a July 14 news release marking the installment of the marine barriers, Abbott's office said the effort was part of his administration's bid, dubbed "Operation Lone Star," to "secure the border; stop the smuggling of drugs, weapons, and people into Texas; and prevent, detect, and interdict transnational criminal behavior between ports of entry."
"Operation Lone Star continues to fill the dangerous gaps created by the Biden Administration’s refusal to secure the border," the news release said. "Every individual who is apprehended or arrested and every ounce of drugs seized would have otherwise made their way into communities across Texas and the nation due to President Joe Biden’s open border policies."