Days after Texas Governor Greg Abbott complained that Texas can’t shoot migrants attempting to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border, three migrants — a woman and two children — drowned in the Rio Grande river while Texas National Guard “physically barred” U.S. Border Patrol from accessing the area.
It’s unclear whether the migrants were drowning or whether they had already drowned when Border Patrol contacted Texas authorities about the situation. In a Justice Department statement released Monday, a Border Patrol official said the migrants had already drowned, and the Texas Military Department has said the idea that it prevented Border Patrol from saving drowning migrants is “wholly inaccurate.”
The DOJ also, however, said that that it is “impossible to say what might have happened if Border Patrol had had its former access to the area — including through its surveillance trucks that assisted in monitoring the area” and that “at the very least … Border Patrol would have had the opportunity to take any available steps to fulfill its responsibilities and assist its counterparts in the Mexican government with undertaking the rescue mission. Texas made that impossible.”
Last week, the Texas National Guard took over Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, Texas, after Abbott granted them “full control” of the park without permission from local officials. Since then, the state guard has prohibited federal authorities from entering the area adjacent to the border.
“Tragically, a woman and two children drowned last night in the Shelby Park area of Eagle Pass, which was commandeered by the State of Texas earlier this week,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement Saturday. “In responding to a distress call from the Mexican government, Border Patrol agents were physically barred by Texas officials from entering the area.”
Mexican authorities recovered the migrants’ bodies early Saturday. Rep. Henry Cuellar said that, according to Mexican sources, a mother drowned with her 8-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. “This is a tragedy, and the state bears responsibility,” the Texas Democrat said in a statement posted on X, formerly Twitter.
Per Cuellar, upon learning that “six migrants were in distress” while attempting to cross the Rio Grande, Border Patrol tried to contact the Texas Military Department, Texas National Guard and Texas Department of Public Safety by phone but “were unsuccessful.” Border Patrol agents then made in-person contact with members of the Texas Military Department.
“Texas Military Department soldiers stated they would not grant [Border Patrol] access to the migrants — even in the event of an emergency — and that they would send a soldier to investigate the situation,” Cuellar wrote.
The Texas Military Department that the state guard could not locate the drowning migrants. “TMD had a unit in the vicinity of the boat ramp and actively searched the river with lights and night vision goggles. No migrants were observed,” the statement said. “At approximately 9:45 pm, TMD observed a group of Mexican authorities responding to an incident on the Mexico side of the river bank. TMD reported their observations back to Border Patrol, and they confirmed that the Mexican authorities required no additional assistance. At that time, TMD ceased search operations.”
The White House is “gathering facts about the circumstances of these tragic deaths,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
“One thing is clear: Governor Abbott’s political stunts are cruel, inhumane, and dangerous,” the administration spokesperson said. “U.S. Border Patrol must have access to the border to enforce our laws.”
The Justice Department has also responded to the situation in Eagle Pass, asking the Supreme Court on Friday to intervene and force Texas National Guard to allow Border Patrol to regain access the 2.5-mile section of the border.
In responding to the influx of migrants across the border, Abbott has engaged in cruel stunts, including bussing migrants to Democratically-led areas like Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York City. He has also flown migrants via charter plane to Chicago. New York’s shelter system has been at times overwhelmed by migrants in need of homes due to Abbott’s actions.
Shortly after the state guard seized the area, Abbott posted on X, “We are making clear that Texas will be a tough place to cross.”
This post has been updated to reflect the Justice Department’s filing on Monday.
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