By Jonathan Allen
(Reuters) – A woman and two children drowned in the Rio Grande as they tried to the enter the U.S. from Mexico on Friday night after Texas military officers prevented federal border officials from going to their aid, according to U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar.
The deaths come as a dispute over immigration intensifies between the Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, and the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat.
The migrants were attempting to cross the river near Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, according to Cuellar’s statement, which is not a legal port of entry, and where the Texas National Guard this week added new concertina wire and fencing.
In a court filing in the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, the U.S. government accused Texas of erecting the new barriers to block federal Border Patrol agents from reaching a boat ramp they use to access the Rio Grande.
In a response filed on Saturday, Texas said that federal Border Patrol agents had largely stopped using the boat ramp in recent months and until Friday’s filing, it was “unaware of federal law enforcement’s current objections, and is working promptly to address them.”
Federal Border Patrol agents learned at about 9 p.m. of a group of migrants in distress as they attempted to cross the Rio Grande, according to the statement by Cuellar, a Democrat.
Federal agents tried to contact Texas officials by telephone, but were unsuccessful, and then went in person to the Shelby Park entrance to speak to the Texas Military Department and the Texas National Guard officials there.
“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,” Cuellar’s statement said.
The bodies of the woman and two children were recovered on Saturday by Mexican authorities, Cuellar said. The identities of the three people have not been made public.
“This is a tragedy, and the State bears responsibility,” Cuellar said.
A spokesperson for Texas’s governor referred questions to the Texas Military Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the Border Patrol did not immediately respond to questions.
The dispute before the Supreme Court is part of broader antagonism between the Texas governor and the Biden administration over a record-breaking number of migrants illegally crossing the border since Biden took office in 2021.
Texas has increasingly sought to implement its own border controls, which have historically been the legal domain of the federal government.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Marguerita Choy)