Texas Investigating Claim That DPS Troopers Were Told To Push Migrants Back Into The Rio Grande And Deny Them Water

A state trooper’s claims that superiors ordered officers at the border in Eagle Pass to push migrants back into the Rio Grande and deny them water has sparked a state investigation, the Texas Department of Public Safety said Tuesday.

The trooper also reported that razor wire deployed by troopers has injured people — including a woman who had a miscarriage while entangled in the wire.

Travis Considine, a DPS spokesperson, said in an email that the Office of the Inspector General, which investigates claims of misconduct by state employees, “is investigating the allegations made in the email in question.”

“There is not a directive or policy that instructs Troopers to withhold water from migrants or push them back into the river,” Considine said.

The allegations made by the trooper were first reported by the Houston Chronicle.

The trooper, who works as a medic, sent the email to a sergeant on July 3 detailing some of the things he witnessed while on patrol in Eagle Pass — where Gov. Greg Abbott recently ordered the deployment of a floating barrier in the Rio Grande to deter migrant crossings.

“I believe we a have stepped over a line into the in humane. We need to operate it correctly in the eyes of God,” the trooper wrote in the email, which DPS provided to The Texas Tribune. “We need to recognize that these are people who are made in the image of God and need to be treated as such.”

The trooper said in the email that he was out on patrol around 10 p.m. on June 25 when he and other troopers came across a group of about 120 people, including small children and nursing babies, who were “exhausted, hungry and tired” along a fence line on the U.S. side.

“We called the shift officer in command, and 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. We made contact with command again and expressed our concerns and we were given the order to tell them to go to Mexico.”

The trooper wrote in the email that five days later, a 4-year-old girl who attempted to cross the razor wire “was pressed back by Texas Guard soldiers due to the orders given to them.” The temperature “was well over 100 degrees” and the girl passed out, the email said, adding that she had received medical treatment.

That same day, a man rescued his child who got stuck on a barrel in the water covered with razor wire, according to the trooper’s email. During the rescue, the man got a “significant” cut on his left leg, the trooper wrote. A 15-year-old boy also broke his leg trying to walk around the wire in the river and his father had to carry him across to the U.S. side, the trooper wrote.

Later that night, troopers found a 19-year-old woman stuck in the razor wire having a miscarriage, the trooper’s email said.

On the afternoon of July 1, Border Patrol reported that a mother and her two children were struggling to cross the river, the email said. A DPS boat team found the mother and one child, who later died at the hospital. The body of the second child “was never found,” the trooper wrote.

The trooper told the sergeant the razor wire is an “inhumane trap” that should be removed because it “forces people to cross in other areas that are deeper and not as safe for people carrying kids and bags.”

In 2021, Abbott announced Operation Lone Star, a series of border security measures that includes sending state troopers and National Guard members to the Texas-Mexico border to deter or arrest migrants attempting to cross the Rio Grande. Abbott has also ordered shipping containers and concertina wire to be placed on the riverbank to serve as barriers.

The Legislature has allocated nearly $10 billion for Abbott’s border security efforts, which include the construction of border walls. The Department of Justice began investigating whether troopers or National Guard members have violated the civil rights of migrants during Operation Lone Star, according to emails obtained last year by the Tribune and ProPublica.

At a media briefing Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said she condemned the troopers’ actions “if they are true.”

“It is abhorrent. It is despicable. It is dangerous,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said the details outlined in the trooper’s email are an “absolutely monstrous, inhumane policy” and added that he urged the Biden administration to intervene and “remove the death traps Abbott has installed, for the sake of human rights.”

Considine, the DPS spokesperson, said in a tweet on Monday that “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 also attached some emails from DPS Director Steven McCraw to his chain of command. In an email sent on July 15, McCraw calls for an audit of DPS’ protocols “to determine if more can be done to minimize the risk to migrants.

“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 cross over the concertina wire, drownings and dehydration,” McCraw wrote.

Andrew Mahaleris, a spokesperson for Abbott, didn’t address the claims made by the trooper, instead blaming President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.

“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,” Mahaleris said in a statement. “President Biden has unleashed a chaos on the border that’s unsustainable, and we have a constitutional duty to respond to this unprecedented crisis.”

State Rep. Victoria Neave Criado, D-Dallas, chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said state lawmakers plan to investigate the claims.

“The treatment of our fellow humans on the Texas-Mexico border by DPS is unconscionable and unacceptable,” she said in a statement. “The Mexican American Legislative Caucus calls on Gov. Abbott and those of good conscience to denounce DPS’ directives, and we will use every legislative tool to investigate these injustices.”

Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a Latino civil rights organization, condemned Texas “inhumane treatment of innocent people.”

“These are Christian refugees, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” Garcia added. “Operation Lone Star is utterly barbaric, and Governor Abbott and all those supporting him must answer for their actions. What would Jesus say about such treatment of the most vulnerable in society?”

Adriana Martinez, an associate professor of geography at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville who studies the effects of border barriers on the Rio Grande, said that immigrant rights advocates have been warning Abbott that his deterrence policies would not work and in some cases would make things worse.

“How many layers do you have to put before you realize they’re not working and it’s just putting people’s life in danger?” she said.

State Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, whose Twitter bio says, “God is sovereign. Jesus saves,” said in a tweet on Tuesday that he supports Abbott’s efforts.

“If in fact @GregAbbott_TX is taking a bolder approach to border security by directing DPS troopers to repel illegal crossers, he has my full support,” he tweeted. “Every Republican legislator should be speaking up as Dems and the media try to shame Abbott into backing down.”

Join us for conversations that matter with newly announced speakers at the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival, in downtown Austin from Sept. 21-23.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/07/18/texas-troopers-department-public-safety-migrants-rio-grande-border/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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