Dems rip Abbott over report Texas troopers were told to deny migrants water, push kids into Rio Grande

Democrats and Latino organizations are lambasting Texas officials over a report this week that the state’s troopers have been ordered to systematically violate the human rights of migrants, including by pushing children into the Rio Grande and denying water aid in extreme heat.

The Houston Chronicle report, based on an email written by a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) trooper, detailed a series of incidents where migrants were seriously injured or killed by measures set in place by Texas to deter them from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

“If true, this is atrocious, barbaric, and downright wrong,” wrote White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a tweet responding to the report.

“It would also not be surprising coming from a Governor who abandoned migrant children on the side of the road in below freezing temperatures on Christmas Eve,” she added.

Much of the criticism over the human rights violations alleged in the report has been directed at Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who launched Operation Lone Star, a state-run border crackdown, in 2021.

“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,” Andrew Mahaleris, a spokesperson for Abbott, told The Hill in an email.

“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,” said Mahaleris.

But Texas Democrats in the House of Representatives on Tuesday excoriated the governor, saying no amount of deterrence is worth the violations described in the trooper’s email.

“We learned last night that a state trooper sent in what looks like an official email details about Operation Lone Star and directives by DPS leadership to not allow migrants — even those who may be struggling to survive in the water, perhaps on the verge of drowning — to not help them, to push them back towards Mexico in the water,” said Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas).

The email detailed cases including one where a pregnant woman miscarried trapped in the razor wire set up by DPS, one where a 4-year-old girl passed out from heat exhaustion as she attempted to pass through the wire only to be pushed back by Texas National Guard soldiers, and a case where a teenage boy broke his leg in the razor wire and had to be carried out by his father.

The trooper who wrote the email also alluded to an order to deny water to heat-stricken migrants and to “traps” set up to catch migrants off guard in the wire.

According to the report, DPS spokesman Travis Considine denied that an order to deny water to migrants was ever issued, but didn’t comment on other allegations in the email.

DPS did not respond to The Hill’s request for further comment, but the agency announced Tuesday it is conducting an internal investigation into the allegations.

Under Operation Lone Star, DPS agents have set up razor wire installations along known crossing points, as well as chains of buoys in sections of the Rio Grande to make crossing more difficult.

The Democrats also took aim at Abbott for the buoy system, both on the grounds that they could trap migrants underwater and because they allegedly violate international boundary regulations.

“I believe that they’re drowning devices. Those buoys are not only set up on the surface of the water but also have net well below them so that people can get trapped in them and also can’t go around them at all, even to try to save themselves,” said Castro.

Rep. Henry Cuéllar (D-Texas), who represents the border city of Laredo, said the buoys had the potential to change the boundary with Mexico, which has raised concerns about the system.

“The problem we have is that the state is not cooperating, or working, or coordinating at all with the federal government,” Cuéllar said.

“They’re going solo on it, and I certainly stand with my colleagues to make sure that we find out exactly what’s happening. Again, we want to see border security but at the same time you’ve got to treat the migrants with respect and dignity.”

While Abbott has said his government is acting to fill gaps where the Biden administration is not performing its duties, Democrats say the state’s foray into immigration and border policy is out of constitutional bounds.

“Let me be very clear: The jurisdiction of immigration is a federal constitutional grounded responsibility. It is the responsibility of President Joe Biden and his administration, and he has taken that responsibility seriously,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas).

The Texas Democrats called on Biden to act more aggressively to impose federal authority at the border, and even called for international organizations to intervene.

“I call on the Department of Justice to investigate these cruel actions toward migrants. Razor wire and barrels in the river, pushing children back into the river and denying water during extreme heat are just deliberate acts of torture,” said Rep. Sylvia García (D-Texas). 

“It goes against everything that we have ever been taught as Texans, and it goes beyond politics and crosses the line into human rights violations. I would call in the United Nations to look at this.”

But the lawmakers recognized that Abbott is politically motivated to stay the course.

“He’s not going to listen because it’s working for him. It’s working for his base. And I don’t really think that he thinks about children. He doesn’t think about what he’s doing to people and how he’s hurting them. He’s looking at how it works for his base, and whatever he deems he’s going to do next in terms of his race, whether it’s for governor or something else,” García said.

Still, the Democrats took the opportunity to slam Abbott, who has comfortably won three gubernatorial elections.

Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) said he was reluctant to believe all the allegations in the letter but called for Abbott’s impeachment if the email is accurate.

“If this is true, articles of impeachment ought to be brought against this governor. He is unfit to hold any office of public trust, especially one as high as being governor of the state of Texas. You don’t do this. Children are at risk. Babies,” said Green. 

“Governor, you have made a mistake. If this is true, you’ve crossed a line and you ought not continue to serve.”

Domingo García, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the country’s oldest Latino civil rights organization, called for Abbott to “answer” for Operation Lone Star.

“LULAC condemns the inhumane treatment of innocent people and denounces the use of razor wire, buoys, and any other barriers that jeopardize the safety of women and children seeking asylum. These are Christian refugees, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” said García.

“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?”

Tags Greg Abbott Henry Cuellar Joaquin Castro Joe Biden Karine Jean-Pierre

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more