Texas officials called accusations they’d allowed three migrants to drown by denying border agents access to a riverside park “wholly inaccurate.”
The Texas military insisted they had searched the Rio Grande and the deaths had already occurred by the time federal officers arrived.
“At the time that Border Patrol requested access, the drownings had occurred, Mexican Authorities were recovering the bodies, and Border Patrol expressed these facts to the TMD personnel on site,” Texas Military Department said in a statement Sunday.
The controversy was sparked after a woman and two children drowned Friday night while trying to cross the Rio Grande near Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, Texas, which Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the TMD to seize and fortify against migrant crossings last week.
Barbed wire has been placed throughout the park, which extandes to the banks of the Rio Grande, which marks the international border.
Federal Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents claim they have been denied access to it without permission.
TMD say they were made aware of a “migrant distress situation” by CBP around 9 p.m. on Jan. 12 and began searching the river. Around 45 minutes later they say Mexican authorities were seen responding to an incident on their bank of the river.
“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 department clarified.
After the drownings, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) issued a press release claiming CBP agents learned of a family in distress near Shelby Park and after being unable to reach TMD to alert them by phone were forced to go to the park and request access in person.
Cuellar claimed TMD told the CBP agents “they would not grant access to the migrants – even in the event of an emergency,” claiming they instead sent a lone soldier to check the river.
“Border Patrol personnel were forced out of Shelby Park earlier this week by the Texas National Guard under order of Governor Abbott,” Cuellar said. “This is a tragedy, and the State bears responsibility.”
TMD disagreed with Cuellar’s assessment, insisting CBP was not requesting access to rescue drowning migrants, but rather to apprehend two members of their party who had survived the crossing.
“Border Patrol specifically requested access to the park to secure two additional migrants that were presumed to have traveled with the deceased, though had crossed to the boat ramp,” TMD said in its statement, noting their agents picked those migrants up and treated them for hypothermia.
After recovering the surviving migrants, TMD said it scanned the river with lights and night vision goggles to ensure nobody remained in the river.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott accused Cuellar of political grandstanding and being “so eager to point finger [sic] at Texas for drowning of migrants they forgot to get the facts,” in a Sunday post on X.
“The fact is the deaths are b/c of Biden’s Open Border magnet,” the governor wrote.
The Texas Military Department did not return The Post’s request for comment. Customs and Border Protection has not provided its own version of events.
A spokesperson for the agency told the Texas Tribune: “We remain gravely concerned by actions that prevent the US Border Patrol from performing their essential missions of arresting individuals who enter the United States unlawfully and providing humanitarian response to individuals in need,” the CBP spokesperson said on Saturday.”
On Sunday, the Biden administration demanded the Texas Military stop keeping federal agents out of Shelby Park with a cease and desist letter sent from the Department of Homeland Security.
The refusal to allow federal agents into Shelby Park “impeded operations of border patrol,” the letter read, calling the action unconstitutional because it is in “conflict with the authority and duties of Border Patrol under federal law,” according to the Texas Tribune.