IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Civil rights groups call for probe into accounts of 'inhumane' border enforcement actions in Texas

In an email to his superiors, a state trooper said he witnessed actions that "stepped over the line" as part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star.
Get more newsLiveonNBC News Now

Immigrant and civil rights groups are calling on local and federal officials to investigate the allegations made by a Texas trooper in an email sent to his superiors, describing how he and his partner were ordered to leave bloodied migrants behind and deny them water in sweltering heat.

The email from July 3, which was obtained by NBC News on Tuesday, details a series of events the trooper for the Department of Public Safety said he witnessed from June 24 to July 1 in Eagle Pass, Texas, while working on Gov. Greg Abbott’s border security initiative, known as Operation Lone Star.

According to the email, the trooper told a supervisor that upon encountering a group of 120 exhausted migrants on June 25, including young children and mothers nursing babies, he and another trooper were ordered to “push the people back into the water to go to Mexico.”

The email obtained by NBC News did not include the name of the trooper and who the email was sent to.

The trooper responded warning of “the very real potential of exhausted people drowning,” the email reads. Despite this, the trooper and his partner were ordered to leave, according to the trooper.

“I believe we have stepped over a line into the inhumane,” the trooper said in his email.

In a joint statement Tuesday, Gov. Abbott stated: "No orders have been given under this mission that would compromise the lives of those attempting to cross the border illegally."

Lt. Chris Olivarez, a spokesperson with the Texas Department of Public Safety, said on Wednesday that “our troopers have not in any way forcefully pushed any migrant — let alone a child — back into the river,” adding that the department has no directive or policy instructing troopers to push migrants back into the river.

The contents of the trooper's email were first reported by the Houston Chronicle on Monday. The email also mentions that the state of Texas has strung miles of razor wire and deployed a wall of buoys alongside the Rio Grande.

Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the nation’s oldest Latino civil rights organization, denounced the use of such dangerous traps "and any other barriers that jeopardize the safety of women and children seeking asylum." 

Juan Jose Martinez-Guevara, an advocacy manager for United We Dream, the nation's largest immigrant youth-led organization, said the allegations "are the realization of years of dangerous, dehumanizing, anti-immigrant rhetoric."

Migrants try to cross the Rio Grande into Eagle Pass, Texas, on July 6, 2023.
A group of migrants tries to cross the Rio Grande into Eagle Pass, Texas, on July 6.Eric Gay / AP file

An internal investigation looking into the accounts chronicled in the trooper’s email is underway, according to the Texas Department of Safety. Democrats in the Texas Capitol have said they also plan to investigate.

In his account from June 30, the trooper said he witnessed a 4-year-old girl attempting to cross through razor wire be “pressed back” by Texas National Guard soldiers in accordance with orders. The child later fainted from the extreme heat, according to the email. The trooper's email also references a directive to not provide water to migrants traveling the area.

Officials at the Texas Department of Safety have denied the existence of such a directive.

Also on June 30, the trooper wrote, they found a man with a significant laceration in his leg. The man told troopers that he got injured trying to save his child, who had gotten stuck on a razor-wire barrel trap in the river water.

On the same day, one of the traps broke the leg of a 15-year-old boy. The trooper said the razor-wire traps were set in a way that "forced him into the river where it is unsafe to travel," the email reads.

The trooper called further attention to how the placement of the razor-wire traps push people to travel through the most unsafe areas and deeper parts of the Rio Grande. The conditions caused at least five people to drown or go missing that week, according to the email.

The trooper urged his superiors to "provide a safe means of travel on solid land to proper collection points," according to the email. He also said an order to not give people water, even under extreme heat conditions, "needs to be immediately reversed as well."

In another account from June 30, the trooper said he came across a 19-year-old woman who had been cut by the wire and having a miscarriage, according to the email.

The allegations come as Abbott, a Republican, has authorized more than $4 billion in spending on Operation Lone Star, which also has included busing thousands of migrants to Democratic-led cities and arresting migrants on trespassing charges.

"Everyone should condemn these actions," Martinez-Guevara said, adding that advocates expect President Joe Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas "to take appropriate steps to investigate and correct the treatment of migrants at our borders and offer relief to those who have suffered from the actions of Governor Abbott.”

Garcia's organization also called for "an immediate federal investigation into the reports."

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday that the trooper’s account, if true, was “abhorrent” and “dangerous.”

“If this is true, it is just completely, completely wrong,” Jean-Pierre said.

The Department of Homeland Security has condemned the allegations in a statement but did not say whether the agency was planning to investigate them.