Drowning of Women, Two Children Intensify Disgust Over Illegal Border Operations by Texas National Guard

“Gov. Abbott’s inhumanity has no limit. Everyone who enables his cruelty has blood on their hands.”

By Jon Queally. Published 1-14-2024 by Common Dreams

U.S. Border Patrol agents perform a water rescue and assist a migrant family in distress near Eagle Pass, Texas, August 20, 2019, CBP photo by Jaime Rodriguez Sr.

The drowning of a woman and two young children along the U.S.-Mexico border have sparked outrage and rebuke over the weekend after it was reported that U.S. Border Patrol agents attempting a rescue operation were denied access to the area by Texas security officials operating under the direction of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

According to Texas Public Radio:

On Friday night, Border Patrol agents nearby learned from Mexican officials that a group of migrants were in distress.

They tried to call the Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas National Guard unsuccessfully and then drove over to Shelby Park, according to Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo), who was briefed on the matter.

“Border Patrol agents then made physical contact with the Texas Military Department and the Texas National Guard at the Shelby Park Entrance Gate and verbally relayed 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.”

The bodies of the migrant woman and two children were eventually recovered by Mexican authorities.

In his statement, Cuellar called the events a “tragedy” and that the state of Texas “bears responsibility.”

White House spokesperson Angelo Fernández Hernández confirmed that Texas soldiers “blocked U.S. Border Patrol from attempting to provide emergency assistance” to the migrants in distress.

“While we continue to gather facts about the circumstances of these tragic deaths,” Fernández Hernández added, “one thing is clear: Governor Abbott’s political stunts are cruel, inhumane, and dangerous.”

The drownings on Friday night came just hours after the U.S. Department of Justice petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene against Texas for taking effective control over Shelby Park and approximately 2.5 miles of border as part of what Gov. Abbott has dubbed “Operation Lone Star.” A challenge to the law was previously considered by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals which stayed action by the federal government pending further review.

“This moment could be a flashpoint in the situation at the border,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director for the American Immigration Council, said Saturday in response to the drownings.

“The Supreme Court is poised to weigh in on the 5th Circuit’s decision any moment,” he added. “And now it seems that three people have already died as a result of the Fifth Circuit’s order and Abbott’s escalation.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texa) placed the blame for Friday’s loss of life squarely on Abbott and other officials in the state who support the policy.

“This is what Operation Lone Star looks like on the ground,” said Castro. “Texas officials blocked Border Patrol agents from doing their job and allowed two children to drown in the Rio Grande. Governor Abbott’s inhumanity has no limit. Everyone who enables his cruelty has blood on their hands.”

On Saturday, footage emerged of Texas National Guard troops deploying razor wire and riot shields to stop migrants and asylum-seekers from crossing the border near Eagle Pass.

“Texas has no legal authority to patrol the border and its National Guard isn’t trained to do so. It shows,” said Tom Jawetz, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who previously served as deputy general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security, in response to the footage.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Friday filed suit against Gov. Abbott and Texas over the state’s S.B. 4 that seeks to permit local and state law enforcement to arrest and detain people they suspect to have entered the state from another country without federal authorization.

As the federal government, not individual states, are responsible for enforcing immigration policies and border security in the U.S., the ACLU has warned that S.B. 4 is not only harmful to migrants and those seeking asylum but also unlawful.

“This law will rupture Texas communities,” said Adriana Piñon, legal director at the ACLU of Texas, in a statement on Friday. “It will strip people of their rights under federal law with devastating consequences: Families may be separated, more people may live in fear of law enforcement, and migrants may have a harder time fully integrating into our communities. This plainly unconstitutional law should never have been passed, so now we are seeking to stop its enforcement while the litigation unfolds.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

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