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'From border security to sadism:' Report claims Texas DPS told to push migrants into Rio Grande

Kaylee Greenlee Beal
The Texas Department of Public Safety placed an orange buoy barrier in the Rio Grande to try to keep migrants from crossing the river near Eagle Pass.

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An email from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) alleged state troopers witnessed several incidents of abuse against migrants in Eagle Pass as part of Operation Lone Star, Gov. Greg Abbott's controversial border security initiative.

On Tuesday, Abbott's office denied that any order or directive related to Operation Lone State endangered migrant lives.

The email, first reported by Hearst Newspapers, detailed accounts from July 3 illustrating a previously unreported incident along the Rio Grande.

According to the email, a shift officer allegedly commanded other troopers to push a group of migrants — which included small children and nursing babies — back into the river.

A trooper and medic, Nicholas Wingate, emailed the account to a supervisor and said other troopers were told to deny migrants water, even during triple digit temperatures.

On Monday evening and throughout Tuesday, critics, immigration groups and political leaders responded to the report.

Domingo Garcia, the national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), said in a statement that the group "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."

He added: "These are Christian refugees, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. 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?"

Abbott's $4 billion Operation Lone Star program uses state troopers and National Guard personnel to arrest migrants on state trespassing charges. Recently, Abbott added more controversial measures to the program, including his deployment of border buoys in Eagle Pass in an effort to deter migrants from illegally crossing the Texas-Mexico border.

Five tractor trailers loaded with the four-foot diameter buoy balls arrived Friday in Eagle Pass. When assembled, they will make a thousand-foot-long obstacle for migrants crossing the Rio Grande.

Critics challenged Operation Lone Star in court because of the inhumane treatment of migrants and possible violations of international treatments with Mexico. It also faces challenges because immigration falls under the purview of the federal government, not the states.

"At the end of the day, Texans need to wake up because these stunts of Greg Abbott are not border patrol. They are not immigration policy," said State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, told TPR.

"I want to know how many people die every week. I want a report on every injury that happens as a result of these kinds of actions that they've taken," Gutierrez explained to TPR. He added that he spoke with Steve McCraw, the head of DPS. "He told me they will be transparent. He has told me that they are providing water, and that they are providing humanitarian aid."

Abbott's office — in a joint statement with McCraw, Texas Border Czar Mike Banks, and Texas Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Thomas Suelzer — said that "no orders or directions have been given under Operation Lone Star that would compromise the lives of those attempting to cross the border illegally."

The statement added: "The Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Military Department continue taking steps to monitor migrants in distress, provide appropriate medical attention when needed, and encourage them to use one of the 29 international bridges along the Texas-Mexico Border where they can safely and legally cross."

Congressman Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, told TPR that he lost trust in McCraw ever since his performance in the aftermath of the Uvalde school shooting last May.

"Steve McCraw lied about Uvalde. They lied to the people of Texas about Uvalde, so it wouldn't be a big surprise if they're lying about this," Castro said.

He said the DPS email reflected Abbott's expectations for the DPS and Texas National Guard troops at the border. The governor's comments set the tone for the experience facing migrants attempting to cross the border.

"Some may eventually get to the border, where they are going to face that multi-layer razor wire in a full force of National Guard and DPS officers, which they will not be allowed to pass," Abbott said at a press conference in June. "They both know they have one instruction: Do not allow anybody to enter into the state of Texas. Period."

Castro said he spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken Monday night.

"I told him about how extreme and severe things are getting at the U.S. Mexico border [and] the barbaric actions that Greg Abbott has directed his people to take. And the secretary of state expressed his deep concern and said that they are reviewing it now," Castro explained. "I urge President Biden and the administration to take very swift action to stop Greg Abbott from doing what he's doing. I think you cross over from border security to barbarism and sadism."

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi