Emails shared with CNN by the Texas Department of Public Safety detail a trooper-medic expressing concerns to a supervisor over the inhumane treatment of migrants along the border in Eagle Pass, Texas.
The Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department are in ongoing talks about what action can be taken against Texas amid concerns over Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s months-long operation along the US southern border, according to a source familiar with the discussions.
In the email, the trooper said medics “were given orders to push the people back into the water to go to Mexico” and were also ordered not to give water to the migrants.
The email is a report of weekly events and operational concerns from June 24 to July 1 while the officer worked as a trooper-medic. The email was first reported by the Houston Chronicle on Monday.
In one seven-hour period late last month, according to the email, two medics from the state Department of Public Safety said they treated:
- A 4-year-old girl passed out in 100-degree heat after Texas (National) Guard personnel pushed the group she was in back toward Mexico
- A man with a significant laceration on his leg, suffered when he tried to rescue his child from razor wire placed on a deterrence buoy in the Rio Grande
- A 15-year-old boy with a broken leg, suffered when he tried to cross a more dangerous part of the river away from the buoys
- A 19-year-old woman trapped in the wire having a miscarriage
The next day, according to the email, the troopers got reports of a mother and two children trying to cross the river in an area without wire. The woman and one child were grabbed after being underwater for about a minute. Both were pronounced dead at hospital. The body of the other child was recovered later.
On another shift, the medics said they found about 120 people camping out – including nursing babies and other young children – exhausted, hungry and tired after a day when the temperature reached 108 degrees in the shade. The medics questioned an order to push them back to the river toward Mexico as they thought it was “not the correct thing to do” and one that could have led to a risk of drowning. They were told to leave the area, the trooper wrote in the email.
The trooper-medics contacted their superiors while on duty and again in writing, calling for changes to the latest Operation Lone Star policies brought in by Abbott.
“I believe we have stepped over a line into the in humane [sic]. We need to operate it correctly in the eyes of God,” the trooper said. “We need to recognize that these are people who are made in the image of God and need to be treated as such.”
In the email, the trooper also voices concerns over the casualty wire.
“The casualty wire needs to provide protection to the state and provide a safe means of travel on solid land to proper collection points. The wire also needs to be manned and patrolled constantly to provide security for these families who are seeking refuge. The wire on the shore needs to be lighted at night so people can see the wire and not stumble into it as a trap. The wire and barrels in the river (need) to be taken out as this is nothing but a in humane [sic] trap in high water and low visibility,” the trooper writes.
DHS spokesperson Erin Heeter said in a statement the report “is troubling and if true is cruel and inhumane.”
“Enforcing immigration law is a federal authority, and DHS continues to prioritize the well-being of those we encounter and those in our custody through the implementation of our plan to safely and humanely manage the Southwest Border. We can both enforce our laws and treat human beings with dignity,” the statement added.
DPS spokesperson Travis Considine was not able to confirm or comment on any of the accounts detailed in the email.
When asked about troopers being told to push migrants back into the water or deny water, Considine told CNN the Office of the Inspector General is investigating the incident.
“Troopers give migrants water. They treat their wounds. They save them from drowning. They also do everything possible to deter them from risking their lives in the first place,” Considine tweeted Monday evening.
And Texas National Guard members have not been given any orders to push migrants back into the water, the Texas Military Department’s public affairs office told CNN.
“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,” the department said in an email.
“There is no order or directive instructing Service Members to push illegal immigrants back into the river or deny them drinking water.”
In a Tuesday joint statement with other Texas top officials including DPS Chief Steve McCraw, Gov. Greg Abbott’s office said there have been no orders or directions given under Operation Lone Star that “would compromise the lives of those attempting to cross the border illegally.”
“The Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Military Department continue taking steps to monitor migrants in distress, provide appropriate medical attention when needed, and encourage them to use one of the 29 international bridges along the Texas-Mexico Border where they can safely and legally cross,” they said.
‘We may need to aid those in medical distress’
In a separate email shared by DPS, South Texas DPS Director Victor Escalon writes to agency officials saying troopers should open the wire to help when necessary.
“As we enforce State law, we may need to open the wire to aid individuals in medical distress, maintain the peace, and/or to make an arrest for criminal trespass, criminal mischief, acts of violence, or other State crimes,” Escalon said.
Escalon also noted in the email that troopers should “continue messaging to the migrants via personnel verbal commands, LRADS (long-range acoustic devices), and signage, about the dangers of crossing the Rio Grande into the United States,” and “remind migrants to turn themselves into the ports of entry on the Mexican side.”
“Our DPS medical unit is assigned to this operation to address medical concerns for everyone involved. As we enforce State law, we may need to aid those in medical distress and provide water as necessary,” Escalon said.
He added that the department is in “close communication with Mexican Federal Immigration, state police, media, and NGOs across the river in Mexico to help with messaging to stop and stem the flow of migrants.”
This message also included an email from McCraw, the DPS director, with photo attachments of injuries sustained by wires along the Rio Grande. There were seven incidents where migrants needed medical attention, according to the email.
“The purpose of the wire is to deter smuggling between the ports of entry and not to injure migrants,” McCraw wrote.
The governor’s office and DPS respond
In an earlier statement sent to CNN responding to the reporting, Andrew Mahaleris, a spokesperson for Abbott, said “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.”
“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,” Mahaleris’ statement read.
The Biden administration has criticized Abbott’s actions along the southern border and his decision to bus migrants to Democratic-led cities without coordination.
Internal discussions about legal action against Texas date back to last year, when Abbott started sending migrants to cities nationwide without alerting them. Controversy also emerged with the deployment of buoys in the Rio Grande, which pose a potential drowning risk to migrants.
It’s unclear whether the administration will take legal action against the state, and officials have stressed that border agents have historically worked closely with the Texas National Guard and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
But it wouldn’t mark the first time the Justice Department has sued over border-related issues.
Last year, the Justice Department sued Arizona for placing shipping containers along the US southern border – a move taken by then-Republican Gov. Doug Ducey as an affront to Biden’s immigration policies. Arizona eventually agreed to remove the containers.
In recent years, migrants have resorted to increasingly risky – and often fatal – paths to evade detection and enter the US. Immigrant rights advocates point to policies that have made it more difficult for migrants to seek refuge in the US, CNN previously reported.
Last year was the deadliest year so far for migrants crossing the US-Mexico border, with at least 748 people dying at the border, CNN has reported.
Texas has recently been involved in a lawsuit over deploying floating barriers on the Rio Grande to deter migrant crossings along the border.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a statement provided by Gov. Greg Abbott's office. It was from Andrew Mahaleris, a spokesperson for Abbott.