CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

3 migrants, including 2 kids, drowned in Eagle Pass days after Texas blocked Border Patrol from area, congressman says

Jan 15, 2024, 6:00 AM

Texas National Guard troops control who enters and exits Shelby Park at the US-Mexico border in Eag...

Texas National Guard troops control who enters and exits Shelby Park at the US-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas, on January 12. (Kaylee Greenlee Beal/Reuters)

(Kaylee Greenlee Beal/Reuters)

Originally Published: 13 JAN 24 19:52 ET
Updated: 14 JAN 24 12:32 ET

(CNN) — Three migrants, a woman and two children, drowned Saturday in the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas – very recently the epicenter of the migrant crisis – just days after state authorities blocked the US Border Patrol from accessing miles of the US-Mexico border, authorities said.

“This is a tragedy, and the State bears responsibility,” Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Texas, said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The congressman said Border Patrol learned a group of six migrants were in distress in the Rio Grande at about 9 p.m. on Friday.

Border Patrol officials called the Texas Military Department, the Texas National Guard and Texas Department of Public Safety but “were unsuccessful” in relaying the information by phone, Cuellar said in the social media post. Federal agents then went to the gate at Shelby Park, set up by Texas authorities, to provide the information, Cuellar 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 said on X.

Early Saturday, three migrant bodies were recovered by Mexican authorities, according to Cuellar.

The Department of Homeland Security confirmed the deaths Saturday and said Border Patrol agents were stopped from assisting at the border.

“In responding to a distress call from the Mexican government, Border Patrol agents were physically barred by Texas officials from entering the area,” a DHS spokesperson told CNN 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 Texas Military Department said in a statement Saturday it was contacted by Border Patrol 9 p.m. Friday about a “migrant distress situation” and searched the river with lights and night vision goggles, but “no migrants were observed.”

About 45 minutes later, Mexican authorities were seen responding to an incident on the Mexican side of the river bank, the Texas Military Department said. “TMD reported their observations back to Border Patrol, and they confirmed that the Mexican authorities required no additional assistance,” the statement said.

“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 Texas Military Department said. “Also, at no point was TMD made aware of any bodies in the area of Shelby Park, nor was TMD made aware of any bodies being discovered on the US side of the border regarding this situation.”

The Border Patrol has been blocked out of Shelby Park, a park along the Rio Grande in the border city of Eagle Pass, since Wednesday night, when Texas authorities erected fencing, gates and razor wire to take custody and control of the park and adjoining areas of the Rio Grande, CNN previously reported. The Texas Military Department told CNN in a statement the state was preparing for future migrant surges and was blocking “organizations that perpetuate illegal immigrant crossings.”

“We are saddened by tragic migrant drownings in Eagle Pass,” a spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection said in a written statement. “We remain gravely concerned by actions that prevent the U.S. Border Patrol from performing their essential missions of arresting individuals who enter the United States unlawfully and providing humanitarian response to individuals in need.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro, another Texas Democrat, released a statement Saturday saying, “Texas officials blocked US Border Patrol agents from doing their job and allowed two children to drown in the Rio Grande.”

The office of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of Public Safety both referred CNN to the Texas National Guard for further information.

In Eagle Pass, which became a focal point of the migrant crisis, city officials have reported a significant drop in the number of migrant encounters – down to about 500 apprehensions daily this week from thousands a few weeks ago, CNN previously reported.

Tensions have remained high between the state and federal officials as they’ve challenged multiple policies put in place by Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, including the use of razor wire along the border and a new law that makes entering Texas illegally a state crime.

On Sunday, the White House called the recent migrant deaths “tragic” and characterized Abbott’s directives on the border as “political stunts,” according to Angelo Fernández Hernández, White House assistant press secretary.

“While we continue to gather facts about the circumstances of these tragic deaths, one thing is clear: Gov. Abbott’s political stunts are cruel, inhumane, and dangerous. US Border Patrol must have access to the border to enforce our laws,” Fernández Hernández told CNN in a statement.

The Biden Administration complained to the US Supreme Court Friday about the state blocking Border Patrol from the area and said the developments “reinforce” the federal government’s need for the high court to quickly intervene.

On Saturday, the state told the high court it was “working promptly” to ensure Border Patrol has access to a boat ramp at Shelby Park.

CNN’s Sara Weisfeldt, Priscilla Alvarez and Jay Croft contributed to this report.

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3 migrants, including 2 kids, drowned in Eagle Pass days after Texas blocked Border Patrol from area, congressman says