White House condemns ‘abhorrent’ reports of Texas troopers being told to push migrant children into Rio Grande

A Texas trooper sends an email to his superior voicing concern about the safety of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border

Kelly Rissman
Wednesday 19 July 2023 17:36 BST
<p>Many migrants injured as they cross into the US due to barbed wire placed along the Rio Grande </p>

Many migrants injured as they cross into the US due to barbed wire placed along the Rio Grande

The White House reacted with outrage to reports that border security officers under Texas Governor Greg Abbott were instructed to push small migrant children back into the Rio Grande as they attempt to cross into the US.

“So I saw we saw those reports clearly, if they are true, it is abhorrent. It is despicable. It is dangerous. And we’re talking about the bedrock values of who we are as a country,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a briefing on Tuesday.

“Potentially if this is true, is just wrong, she continued. “I would say sadly, it would not be surprising from a governor who—let’s not forget—on Christmas Eve, put migrant children on the streets and below zero degree temperature.”

The ACLU of Texas also condemned Texas officers’ alleged actions. David Donatti, ACLU of Texas staff attorney, said in a statement: “What Texas is doing at the border will seriously hurt or kill people if it hasn’t already. The leaked complaint shocks our conscience, but it unfortunately is consistent with what we have seen from Gov. Abbott. Our border communities are home, and cruelty to migrants is not a policy solution.”

The Independent obtained emails with stunning allegations sent on 3 July from a Department of Public Safety (DPS) trooper medic to his superior.

The trooper described an incident on 25 June, in which troopers came across an exhausted group of 120 people, which included several small children and nursing babies, set up along a fence set up along the river. “We were given orders to push the people back into the water to go to Mexico. We decided that this was not the correct thing to do. With the very real potential of exhausted people drowning,” the trooper wrote.

After the troopers voiced their concerns, they were told to “tell them to go to Mexico and get into our vehicle and leave,” the trooper explained in the email. Shortly after, other troopers worked with border patrol to care for the migrants.

The trooper also wrote how officers were told not to provide water to asylum seekers—despite the extreme heat— prompting the trooper to describe the orders to his superior as “in humane” (sic) in the email. “Due to the extreme heat, the order to not give people water needs to be immediately reversed as well,” he wrote.

But Department of Public Safety spokesman Travis Considine told The Independent that there is no directive against giving water to migrants or a directive to push migrants back into the water. He added that Office of the Inspector General is investigating the allegations described in the trooper’s email.

The Texas Military Department—which oversees the state’s national guard—echoed this, telling The Independent: “The Texas National Guard mission is to work alongside our Texas law enforcement partners to prevent, deter and interdict transnational criminal activity between ports of entry. There is no order or directive instructing Service Members to push illegal immigrants back into the river or deny them drinking water.”

The agents for the state of Texas have recently come under fire as reports emerged that they placed a razor wire in the Rio Grande.

The trooper also described a series of injuries caused by the wire. A pregnant woman was ensnared in the wire—while having a miscarriage—was discovered doubled over in pain. A four-year-old girl passed out from heat exhaustion after she tried to pass through the wire wall, only to be pushed by Texas National Guard soldiers back toward Mexico. In yet another incident, a teenaged boy broke his leg trying to maneuver around the wire-covered water, and had to be carried by his father.

The trooper said Texas officials had put “traps” of razor wire-wrapped barrels in particularly precarious parts of the river–those with high water and low visibility. The email added that since the wire was put in, the risk of drownings has increased. “With the casualty wire running for several miles along the river in areas where it is easier for people to cross. It forces people to cross in other areas that are deeper and not as safe for people carrying kids and bags,” he wrote.

In a separate email dated 15 July, Regional Director Victor Escalon said that there had been a rise in injuries caused by the wire, including seven incidents reported between 4 July to 13 July by border patrol in which asylum seekers required “elevated medical attention.” These seven incidents are separate from the incidents in the other email from the trooper.

“The purpose of the wire is to deter smuggling between the ports of entry and not to injure migrants,” Mr McCraw wrote back on 15 July. “The smugglers care not if the migrants are injured, but we do, and we must take all necessary measures to mitigate the risk to them including injuries from trying to cross over the concertina wire, drownings and dehydration.”

In response to Texas putting up the wire, a CBP agent said late last month: “It is a federal responsibility to enforce U.S. immigration laws. U.S. Border Patrol continues to enforce U.S. immigration laws. The individuals had already crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico, were on U.S. soil, and are subject to U.S. immigration laws.”

Andrew Mahaleris, Gov Abbott’s press secretary, spoke in defence of the razor wire. He said in an email to The Independent: “Texas is deploying every tool and strategy to deter and repel illegal crossings between ports of entry as President Biden’s dangerous open border policies entice migrants from over 150 countries to risk their lives entering the country illegally.”

He continued, “The absence of razor wire and other deterrence strategies encourages migrants to make unsafe and illegal crossings between ports of entry, while making the job of Texas National Guard soldiers and DPS troopers more dangerous and difficult. President Biden has unleashed a chaos on the border that’s unsustainable, and we have a constitutional duty to respond to this unprecedented crisis.”

The Independent has also reached out to US Customs and Border Patrol for comment.

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