The Department of Homeland Security and a Texas congressman said Saturday that an adult migrant and two children have drowned in an area at the southern border where Texas was blocking Border Patrol from entering — but Texas authorities say they fully investigated the incident and did not see any migrants in distress.
“Tragically, a woman and two children drowned last night in the Shelby Park area of Eagle Pass, which was commandeered by the State of Texas earlier this week,’ a DHS spokesperson said in a statement.
Texas had taken control earlier this week of Shelby Park along the Rio Grande River, an area that had previously served as a staging area for processing during migrant surges in the busy crossing area. DHS had said it had been blocked from entering the area by Texas. The Texas Military Department said the move was to prepare for future illegal immigrant surges and to stop organizations that perpetuate crossings.
In its statement, DHS said that “responding to a distress call from the Mexican government, Border Patrol agents were physically barred by Texas officials from entering the area.”
“The Texas governor’s policies are cruel, dangerous, and inhumane, and Texas’s blatant disregard for federal authority over immigration poses grave risks. The State of Texas should stop interfering with the U.S. Border Patrol’s enforcement of U.S. law,” the statement said.
Separately, a CBP spokesperson said the agency is saddened by the deaths and “gravely concerned by actions that prevent the U.S. Border Patrol from performing their essential missions of arresting individuals who enter the United States unlawfully and providing humanitarian response to individuals in need.”
The White House also linked the drownings to what it called “political stunts” from Texas Gov. Abbott.
“On Friday night, a woman and two children drowned near Eagle Pass, and Texas officials blocked U.S. Border Patrol from attempting to provide emergency assistance. While we continue to gather facts about the circumstances of these tragic deaths, one thing is clear: Governor Abbott’s political stunts are cruel, inhumane, and dangerous,” a spokesperson said. “U.S. Border Patrol must have access to the border to enforce our laws.”
Earlier, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, had issued a statement announcing the deaths. He said that Border Patrol attempted to contact Texas officials by phone after they learned of six migrants in distress, but were unsuccessful and had later verbally relayed information in person to Texas Military Department soldiers, who said they would not grant access to Border Patrol even in the event of an emergency.
“Border Patrol personnel were forced out of Shelby Park earlier this week by the Texas National Guard under order of Governor Abbott. As a result, Border Patrol was unable to render aid to the migrants and attempt to save them,” he said.
In a statement of its own, the Texas Military Department confirmed it had been contacted by Border Patrol about a “migrant distress situation” and searched the river with lights and night vision goggles, but no migrants were observed.
“At approximately 9:45pm TMD observed a group of Mexican authorities responding to an incident on the Mexico-side of the river bank,” the statement said. “TMD reported their observations back to Border Patrol and they confirmed that the Mexican authorities required no additional assistance. At that time TMD ceased search operations.”
“At no time did TMD security personnel along the river observe any distressed migrants, nor did TMD turn back any illegal immigrants from the US during this period,” the agency said. “Also, at no point was TMD made aware of any bodies in the area of Shelby Park nor was TMD made aware of any bodies being discovered on the U.S. side of the border regarding this situation.”
The department said it maintains water rescue equipment and works with local emergency services to aid migrants in need of medical attention.
Tensions have been high between Texas and the federal government, with ongoing lawsuits related to Texas’ construction of razor wire and the administration’s cutting of it, the establishment of buoys in the Rio Grande, and a recent anti-illegal immigration law signed by Abbott.
Speaking to Fox News Digital, Cuellar said he understands why the state can be frustrated by the government, but said that the incident showed that “you can’t just go solo on things.”
“This is something where I think if people really want to talk about border security, the state should be working with the federal government instead of excluding them,” he said.
He said that he has a great deal of respect for Texas authorities and noted his brother used to be an officer in the Department of Public Safety, but stressed the importance of state and federal agencies working together.
“I just don’t understand what the purpose is of trying to exclude the Border Patrol from a particular area and it should be…less politics and more cooperation,” he said.
Fox News’ Matt Finn, Bill Melugin and Andrew Murray contributed to this report.