EAGLE PASS, Texas — Texas Governor Greg Abbott is pushing back against accusations that the Texas Military Department refused to allow Border Patrol agents to enter a city park in the heart of downtown Eagle Pass to rescue a migrant family who later drowned. The governor called the claim “wholly inaccurate.” On Sunday evening, Abbott posted a rebuttal to the accusations on X (formerly Twitter), saying the deaths of a migrant woman and her two children were because of the “Biden Open Border magnet.”
As reported by Breitbart Texas, on Friday evening, 33-year-old Virterma de la Sancha and her two children, ages ten and eight, attempted to cross the Rio Grande into Eagle Pass along with several other migrants. After struggling with the currents, members of the group placed an emergency phone call, prompting the arrival of law enforcement and military soldiers in Mexico. Shortly after their arrival, authorities in Mexico pulled the lifeless bodies of the migrant mother and her two children from the Rio Grande.
A source within CBP, not authorized to speak to the media, told Breitbart Texas the Border Patrol was contacted to assist in rescuing any members of the group who may have reached the United States side of the river. Shortly afterward, according to the source, a conflict ensued regarding access to the park between members of the Texas National Guard and Border Patrol agents dispatched to launch a rescue attempt.
According to a timeline provided by the Texas Military Department on Sunday, the Border Patrol’s request to enter the park came after the migrant drownings had already occurred and the bodies of the family were being pulled from the water by Mexican authorities. The CBP source confirmed the probability of the timeline with Breitbart Texas, adding, “More than likely, they probably had already drowned. There were a lot of moving pieces trying to get state authorities on the phone to gain access and that took time.”
“Having to explain the situation to the guard members at the gate exhausted time as well,” the source continued. “It’s highly likely, they had drowned already. It only takes a few minutes in that current to go under and disappear”.
The park was seized by the state on Thursday, a day before the drownings. The source told Breitbart Texas the move further restricted access to the river that had already been made more difficult by the placement of concertina wire, saying, “If you don’t have a boat to conduct rescues, getting through the wire to through a flotation device on foot is near impossible and has been for a while.”
On Saturday, U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar, Ph.D. (TX-28) issued a statement blaming the deaths on the state that read in part:
Border Patrol learned on Friday, January 12, 2024, at approximately 9:00 P.M. that a group of six migrants were in distress as they attempted to cross the Rio Grande River. Border Patrol attempted to contact the Texas Military Department, the Texas National Guard, and DPS Command Post by telephone to relay the information, but were unsuccessful. 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. 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.
Earlier today, Saturday, January 13, 2024, the three migrant bodies were recovered by Mexican authorities. Border Patrol personnel were forced out of Shelby Park earlier this week by the Texas National Guard under order of Governor Abbott. In this situation, the Texas Military Department and the Texas National Guard did not grant access to Border Patrol agents to save the migrants. This is a tragedy, and the State bears responsibility.
Abbott quickly responded on X, posting a statement by the Texas Military Department that disputed the allegations. The governor’s statement reads:
The Texas Military Department has continued a thorough review of the circumstances surrounding the drowning of migrants in the Rio Grande. Claims of Border Patrol requesting access to save distressed migrants are inaccurate. Claims that TMD prevented Border Patrol from saving the lives of drowning migrants are wholly inaccurate.
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. TMD Soldiers were in direct communication with Border Patrol on the evening of 12 January when Border Patrol requested access to Shelby Park.
Soldiers confirmed that when Border Patrol requested access to the park they stated that Mexican Authorities had already recovered the bodies of two drowned migrants. 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.
Two migrants were apprehended by TMD, with one turned over to DPS and the other transferred to EMS in response to initial hypothermic conditions. Additionally, TMD remained engaged with lights, night vision goggles, and thermals to ensure that no additional migrants were in the river or in distress.
As the back-and-forth volley of accusations between the state and federal governments over the deaths of the migrant family group, a legal showdown between the two is likely to come quickly. On Sunday, Department of Homeland Security General Counsel Jonathan Meyer sent a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton noting the drownings and asserting the Border Patrol’s statutory right to enter and patrol land within 25 miles of the border without a warrant is being impeded. Meyer’s request for Texas to cease and desist obstructions to the Border Patrol at the park established a deadline of January 17 to comply or face potential action by the United States Department of Justice.
Randy Clark is a 32-year veteran of the United States Border Patrol. Prior to his retirement, he served as the Division Chief for Law Enforcement Operations, directing operations for nine Border Patrol Stations within the Del Rio, Texas, Sector. Follow him on Twitter @RandyClarkBBTX.