Texas accused of blocking attempts to save drowning migrants

Eagle Pass, Texas - The Biden administration on Sunday denounced what it said was "dangerous" obstruction by Texas authorities after three migrants drowned while attempting to cross the Rio Grande from Mexico.

Federal officials say Texas authorities blocked attempts to save three migrants who drowned while attempting to cross the Rio Grande.
Federal officials say Texas authorities blocked attempts to save three migrants who drowned while attempting to cross the Rio Grande.  © Brandon Bell / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

"On Friday night, a woman and two children drowned near Eagle Pass, and Texas officials blocked US Border Patrol from attempting to provide emergency assistance," said a statement from White House spokesperson Angelo Fernandez Hernandez.

It continued: "While we continue to gather facts about the circumstances of these tragic deaths, one thing is clear: Governor Abbott's political stunts are cruel, inhumane, and dangerous. US Border Patrol must have access to the border to enforce our laws."

The Biden administration has been locked in a legal struggle with Republican Governor Greg Abbott, a vocal supporter of Donald Trump and a fierce critic of the administration's migration policies.

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The Justice Department has accused the governor of blocking federal agents from carrying out their traditional duties in policing a key section of the border, while the governor says the federal government has failed in its responsibility to stem a record influx of migrants.

Abbott has supported tough border measures, including the installation of barbed wire along the border and floating obstacles in the Rio Grande.

Henry Cuellar, a Democratic Congressman from Texas, on Saturday also accused the state's National Guard – which this week took exclusive control over a key border sector – of refusing to "grant access to Border Patrol agents to save the migrants" in the incident Friday.

"This is a tragedy, and the State bears responsibility," Cuellar added in a statement.

Texas claims Border Patrol officials "actively searched" for migrants in distress

Texas has faced significant criticism and legal challenges over extreme anti-migrant policies.
Texas has faced significant criticism and legal challenges over extreme anti-migrant policies.  © Brandon Bell / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

The Texas Military Department, which oversees the state's national guard, offered a substantially different version of the events Friday, according to a statement cited by media.

It confirmed that Border Patrol officials contacted it Friday night "in reference to a migrant distress situation," adding that one of its units "actively searched the river with lights and night vision goggles" but found no migrants in distress and no bodies.

The guardsmen ended their search after noting that authorities across the river appeared to be "responding to an incident on the Mexico side of the river bank," the statement said.

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In December, a federal appeals court blocked Border Police from removing or dismantling barbed wire installed by Texas near Eagle Pass, except in the case of emergencies.

The Justice Department has appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.

But this week, the Texas National Guard began installing new barriers which have prevented border police from gaining access to a key 2.5-mile section of the border, according to a filing by Elizabeth Prelogar, the solicitor general.

In a response to the case before the Supreme Court, Texas officials acknowledged having taken control of a city park in Eagle Pass "for law-enforcement and disaster-relief purposes."

But they added that until receiving the solicitor general's filing, "Texas was unaware of federal law enforcement's current objections, and is working promptly to address them."

Cover photo: Brandon Bell / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

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