Border security: Texas Democrats urge governor to halt aggressive tactics

By Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A group of Democratic lawmakers from Texas on Tuesday urged the state’s Republican governor to halt his aggressive border security campaign after a report alleged that Texas authorities were ordered to deny water to migrants in extreme heat and to push migrant children back into the Rio Grande River.

The lawmakers, led by Representative Joaquin Castro, called on Democratic President Joe Biden to use federal authority to halt Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s border security efforts if Abbott refuses to stop the initiative, called Operation Lone Star.

Castro said the Justice Department should complete an ongoing investigation into possible civil rights violations under the Texas operation and issue a cease-and-desist order, calling Abbott’s policies “brutal” and “inhumane.”

In recent months, Texas National Guard troops have strung up razor wire to block migrants from crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico to Texas.

Last week, Texas authorities began installing a floating barrier in the middle of the river near Eagle Pass, Texas, sparking a diplomatic complaint from Mexico.

A State Department spokesperson said Texas had not consulted with federal officials before installing the buoys or barriers.

The number of migrants caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally has dropped since Biden implemented a restrictive new asylum policy in May. Even so, roughly 100,000 were apprehended in June.

The allegations that Texas authorities gave orders that put migrants in potentially life-threatening situations were reported by the Houston Chronicle, which cited an email from a Texas Department of Public Safety paramedic and trooper.

Reuters reviewed the July 3 email from the paramedic, Nicholas Wingate, to a supervisor.

In a joint statement, Abbott and other Texas officials defended their border security strategy.

“No orders or directions have been given under Operation Lone Star that would compromise the lives of those attempting to cross the border illegally,” they said.

The officials added concertina wire and other deterrent measures discourage “potentially life-threatening and illegal crossings.”

Five migrants drowned in a one-week period near Eagle Pass after the concertina wire was installed, Wingate said in his email.

Wingate called the wire an inhumane “trap.”

One woman stuck in the wire “in obvious pain” was freed and found to be having a miscarriage, Wingate added.

The department’s internal watchdog has opened an investigation into the allegations, a spokesperson said.

Texas officials have also installed razor wire on private property leased to the federal government despite the landowner’s objections, according to a separate Houston Chronicle report.

Abbott’s office and Texas DPS did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the report.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted that the Texas orders, if true, were “atrocious, barbaric, and downright wrong.”

(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Additional reporting by Kylie Madry in Mexico City and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Stephen Coates)