Texas troopers told to push back migrants into Rio Grande and ordered not to give water despite heat, report says
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s escalating measures to stop migrants along the U.S. border with Mexico came under a burst of new criticism Tuesday after a state trooper said migrants were left bloodied from razor-wire barriers and that orders were given to deny people water in sweltering heat.
In one account, Texas Trooper Nicholas Wingate told a supervisor that upon encountering a group of 120 migrants on June 25 — including young children and mothers nursing babies — in Maverick County, a rural Texas border county, he and another trooper were ordered to “push the people back into the water to go to Mexico.”
The trooper described the actions in an email dated July 3 as inhumane.
Travis Considine, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Safety, said the accounts provided by the trooper were under internal investigation. He said the department has no directive or policy that instructs troopers to withhold water from migrants or push them back into the river.
The emails, first obtained by Hearst Newspapers, thrust Texas’ sprawling border security mission back under scrutiny at a time when Abbott is expanding the mission by putting a new floating barrier on the Rio Grande. The Republican has authorized more than $4 billion in spending on the mission, known as Operation Lone Star, which has also included busing thousands of migrants to Democratic-led cities and arresting migrants on trespassing charges.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday that the trooper’s account, if true, was “abhorrent” and “dangerous.” Democrats in the Texas Capitol said they planned to investigate.
“We are talking about the bedrock values of who we are as a country and the human indecency that we are seeing,” Jean-Pierre said. “If this is true, it is just completely, completely wrong.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security condemned the reported actions in a statement but did not say whether the agency was planning to investigate the allegations.
Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales, whose sprawling south Texas congressional district includes the border, tweeted, “Border security should not equal a lack of humanity.”
In one instance, according to Wingate, a 4-year-old girl attempting to cross through razor wire was “pressed back” by Texas National Guard soldiers in accordance with orders and that the child later fainted from the heat. Temperatures in Maverick County this summer have soared into the triple-digits.
Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber, who has supported the state deploying workers to the border, said he was taken aback by the trooper’s account.
“I don’t agree with whatever they were told to do,” Schmerber said. “That’s not something that’s part of our mission. You know, I know that we’re here to protect and serve no matter who it is, you know, either immigrants or U.S. citizens. But we’re not going to do any harm to anybody.”
Wingate did not immediately return an email message seeking comment Tuesday. The Texas Military Department also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
As concern and outrage over the trooper’s account mounted Tuesday, Abbott’s office issued a statement that said no orders have been given “that would compromise the lives of those attempting to cross the border illegally.” The statement did not address Wingate’s specific accounts and defended the border mission overall.
The statement said the razor wire “snags clothing” but did not address the accounts of migrants being cut and bloodied by the barrier.
“The absence of these tools and strategies—including concertina wire that snags clothing—encourages migrants to make potentially life-threatening and illegal crossings. Through Operation Lone Star, Texas continues stepping up to respond to the unprecedented humanitarian crisis at our southern border,” the statement read.
The email chain with the trooper included a log showing 38 encounters between June 25 and July 1 with migrants in need of medical assistance, ranging from weakness to lacerations, broken limbs and drownings in which life-saving measures were required. A dozen were under a year old.
Other accounts included a 19-year-old woman who was found cut by the wire and having a miscarriage. The others had cuts or broken bones as a result of where the wires were placed, according to the email.
“We need to operate it correctly in the eyes of God,” Wingate wrote.
In response to Wingate’s accounts, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw sent an email saying “the priority of life requires that we rescue migrants from harm and we will continue to do so.”
A separate email exchange obtained by The Associated Press dated July 14 shows McCraw receiving pictures, originally sent by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, of injuries caused by the sharp wire placed by Texas officials.
The pictures showed some injuries that required stitches as well as bloodied hands and legs.
Associated Press reporter Valerie Gonzalez in McAllen, Texas, contributed to this report.
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