The White House is standing by prior statements relating to the drowning of three migrants in the Rio Grande, which it had initially linked to a blockade of the area by Texas. Texas accuses the White House of pushing a “vile” narrative that is “completely inaccurate.”
Both the White House and the Department of Homeland Security took aim at Texas after the deaths of the three migrants, including two children, in the Shelby Park area of Eagle Pass last week. Texas had seized the area, and the administration said it was refusing to grant Border Patrol access.
“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,” DHS said in a statement Saturday evening.
“In responding to a distress call from the Mexican government, Border Patrol agents were physically barred by Texas officials from entering the area.”
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That statement added Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s policies are “cruel, dangerous and inhumane, and Texas’s blatant disregard for federal authority over immigration poses grave risks.”
The White House had been similarly critical over the deaths Saturday evening.
“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. U.S. Border Patrol must have access to the border to enforce our laws.”
The Texas Military Department later released a statement saying it had conducted an investigation and called the White House statements “wholly inaccurate.”
“At the time that Border Patrol requested access, the drownings had occurred, Mexican authorities were recovering the bodies and Border Patrol expressed these facts to the TMD personnel on site,” it said.
Then this week, in a court filing as part of ongoing litigation, the DOJ agreed with that version of events, saying that Mexican officials had advised Border Patrol at 9 p.m. local time that the migrants had drowned at 8 p.m but adding that there were an additional two migrants “in distress” on the U.S. side of the border.
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The filing repeats the claim that Border Patrol was not allowed to enter the area “even in emergency situations.” The two additional migrants, who were suffering from hypothermia, were later rescued by Mexican officials.
The DOJ suggested it may have been able to spot the migrants if it had access to the area.
“It is impossible to say what might have happened if Border Patrol had had its former access to the area, including through its surveillance trucks that assisted in monitoring the area,” the agency said. “At the very least, however, Border Patrol would have had the opportunity to take any available steps to fulfill its responsibilities and assist its counterparts in the Mexican government with undertaking the rescue mission. Texas made that impossible.”
The filing immediately drew accusations from Texas that the Biden administration had incorrectly blamed the state for the deaths. But the White House denied that.
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“They drowned near Eagle Pass … and that Texas officials blocked Border Patrol from accessing the area. That’s what was happening at that time,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a White House press briefing Wednesday.
“Our statement is consistent with DOJ’s filing,” she said. “As the DOJ filing said, there was an ongoing emergency situation that Border Patrol was blocked from accessing. There were other migrants in the water as well.”
That assessment was shared by a DHS spokesperson.
“This filing confirms what we said over the weekend. Texas’ blatant disregard for federal authority over immigration poses grave risks, and the State of Texas should stop interfering with the U.S. Border Patrol’s enforcement of U.S. law,” the spokesperson said.
But Texas hit back. Attorney General Ken Paxton accused the administration of pushing a debunked narrative.
“Your attempt to blame Texas for three migrant deaths on January 12, 2024 is vile and, as you now should be aware, completely inaccurate,” he said in a letter to DHS.
He then repeated points made by the TMD and said the agents did not request entry based on a medical emergency, that agents had already told Texas that Mexico had recovered the bodies and that Texas made a “diligent search” of the area and confirmed that Mexican officials had recovered the bodies.
“Texas has seen no evidence, and you cite none, showing that the migrants who drowned actually reached the Texas shore,” he added.
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“Biden was clearly wrong to blame Texas for deaths in the Rio Grande,” Abbott said on X, formerly Twitter. “As a federal judge already ruled, Biden & DHS ‘create a perverse incentive’ for migrants to make dangerous illegal crossings. Biden is to blame for drownings.”
Fox News’ Bill Melugin contributed to this report.