Texas authorities have denied claims that state law enforcement prevented Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from rescuing three drowning migrants in the Rio Grande on Friday, adding to an ongoing legal battle between the state and federal government over border authority.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said Saturday that the state National Guard “did not grant access to Border Patrol agents to save the migrants,” after the guard blocked access to a city park in Eagle Pass, Texas, this week.
“In responding to a distress call from the Mexican government, Border Patrol agents were physically barred by Texas officials from entering the park,” DHS said in a statement. “The Texas governor’s policies are cruel, dangerous, and inhumane, and Texas’s blatant disregard for federal authority over immigration poses grave risks.”
The bodies of the three drowned migrants, a woman and two children, were recovered by Mexican authorities Friday evening, DHS said.
“This is a tragedy, and the State bears responsibility,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who first reported the deaths, said in a statement Saturday.
The barricaded sections of the Rio Grande include Shelby Park and its boat ramp, the primary access point for CBP to the river. The Department of Justice argued in a court filing Friday, just hours before the incident, that blocking federal access to the park could endanger migrants.
“Because Border Patrol can no longer access or view this stretch of the border, Texas has effectively prevented Border Patrol from monitoring the border to determine whether a migrant requires the emergency aid that the court of appeals expressly excepted from the injunction,” the filing read.
The Texas Military Department (TMD) said in a statement Saturday night that one of its units had searched the river after CBP alerted them of the situation but did not find any migrants. The statement did not address the federal government’s claims that Texas authorities had “physically barred” CBP agents from entering the park.
“At no time did TMD security personnel along the river observe any distressed migrants, nor did TMD turn back any illegal immigrants from the US during this period,” the department said.
The federal and Texas governments have feuded for months over border jurisdiction. The Department of Justice requested last week that the Supreme Court rule on the disagreement.