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I reported on immigration in southern Arizona several years ago and still think about the desert’s unforgiving landscape. Local aid workers led me through a popular, remote path for migrants that was littered with empty plastic water jugs, worn sneakers and wooden crosses planted in the dirt, marking the memory of those who did not survive the treacherous journey through the arid mountains to the U.S.

People often embark on this journey to save their lives or the lives of their children. And so when I saw the large orange buoys that Texas officials had lined up in the Rio Grande, I instantly recognized this as an attention-grabbing measure, unlikely to actually stop migrants who desperately wanted to cross the river and enter the U.S.

I reached out to immigration law scholar Jean Lantz Reisz for more context. She explained how the move could, in fact, backfire: The orange buoys – now the subject of a lawsuit the federal government has launched against the state of Texas – could end up impeding immigration enforcement rather than help secure the borders.

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Amy Lieberman

Politics + Society Editor

Buoy barriers are shown in the middle of the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas, on July 18, 2023. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Federal government is challenging Texas setting up buoys in the Rio Grande – here’s why these kinds of border blockades wind up complicating immigration enforcement

Jean Lantz Reisz, University of Southern California

Setting up buoys in a section of the Rio Grande is more likely to result in migrants seeking pathways elsewhere, rather than deterring migration altogether.

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