Texas responds to accusations it blocked Border Patrol from rescuing migrants who drowned

Texas said the allegations Border Patrol agents were denied access to the area are "inaccurate."
National Guard, Jan. 12, 2024, Rio Grande River, Eagle Pass, Texas

The U.S. Homeland Security Department and Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar accused Texas authorities of stopping federal officials from rescuing an adult and two children who ultimately drowned while attempting to enter the United States near Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, Texas.

The Texas Military Department on Saturday did not deny stopping federal officials from responding, but the state did in a Supreme Court filing that same day. The state safety agency said its unit "actively searched" the Rio Grande River after Border Patrol informed it of a "migrant distress situation," but state officials did not find any migrants, according to Fox News.

"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 state agency also said, using the acronym for Texas Military Department.

The response came after Cuellar, whose district borders the Rio Grande, had blamed the state earlier that day for the deaths. 

Border Patrol became aware Friday evening that "six migrants were in distress as they attempted to cross the Rio Grande River," Cuellar said. Border Patrol unsuccessfully attempted to call three Texas border agencies at the time before making physical contact with Texas officials, the congressman said.

"However, Texas Military Department soldiers stated they would not grant access to the migrants - even in the event of an emergency - and that they would send a soldier to investigate the situation," Cuellar also said. "Earlier today, Saturday, January 13, 2024, the three migrant bodies were recovered by Mexican authorities. ... This is a tragedy, and the State bears responsibility."

Homeland Security also said its agents were prohibited from assisting in the rescue. 

"In responding to a distress call from the Mexican government, Border Patrol agents were physically barred by Texas officials from entering the park," the federal agency said, The Associated Press reported Sunday. "The Texas governor’s policies are cruel, dangerous, and inhumane, and Texas’s blatant disregard for federal authority over immigration poses grave risks."

The Texas National Guard seized control of Shelby Park last week and began restricting Border Patrol access as part of a plan to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the U.S.

The Justice Department brought a case regarding control of the park before the Supreme Court on Friday, and the next day, Texas responded in a filing that the allegations Border Patrol agents were denied access to the area are "inaccurate."

The state said in the Supreme Court document, "To the best of Texas’s knowledge, Border Patrol has continuously had access to the river—albeit not the Park—throughout the Texas National Guard’s recent operation to secure the Park," and "Texas is currently working to ensure that Border Patrol has access to the boat ramp" in the park. 

Texas has been taking additional border security measures, despite legal challenges from the Biden administration, following consistent record numbers of migrant encounters across the United States. 

Follow Madeleine Hubbard on X or Instagram.