BORDER SECURITYThree Migrants Drowned Near Eagle Pass Park After Border Patrol Was Denied Access

By Sneha Dey

Published 15 January 2024

Texas officers took control over Shelby Park against the city’s wishes on Wednesday and have since blocked U.S. Border Patrol agents from entering.

A woman and two children drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande, near the Eagle Pass park that Texas troopers have taken control over, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed on Saturday.

State officers and National Guard members have been denying federal Border Patrol agents entry to the 47-acre Shelby Park since early this week. When Border Patrol agents received a call Friday evening from the Mexican government about the migrants in distress, Texas officials barred the federal agents from entering the area and providing aid, according to a DHS spokesperson.

The Border Patrol officers made unsuccessful attempts to contact the Texas Military Department, National Guard and Department of Public Safety via telephone about the distress call. When the officers went to the park entrance to verbally notify the state, Texas Military Department personnel denied them entry, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar said in a written statement.

“Texas Military Department soldiers stated they would not grant (Border Patrol) access to the migrants – even in the event of an emergency – and that they would send a soldier to investigate the situation,” Cuellar said in the statement on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The Texas Military Department issued a statement Saturday evening acknowledging that they were contacted by Border Patrol on Friday night alerting them to a “migrant distress situation,” but after searching the river with lights and night vision goggles they were unable to find any migrants.

At no time did TMD security personnel along the river observe any distressed migrants, nor did TMD turn back any illegal immigrants from the US during this period,” the statement said. “Also, at no point was TMD made aware of any bodies in the area of Shelby Park, nor was TMD made aware of any bodies being discovered on the U.S. side of the border regarding this situation.”

The bodies of the three migrants were recovered by Mexican authorities on Saturday morning, Cuellar said. Officials have not yet released the names or any other information on the deceased.

“This is a tragedy, and the state bears responsibility,” Cuellar, a ranking member of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, wrote.

U.S. Custom and Border Protection condemned the state actions in a statement to The Texas Tribune.

“We remain gravely concerned by actions that prevent the U.S. Border Patrol from performing their essential missions of arresting individuals who enter the United States unlawfully and providing humanitarian response to individuals in need,” the CBP spokesperson said.

Starting on Wednesday night, the Texas Department of Public Safety erected concertina wire and fencing at Shelby Park to close off access to the public, said Eagle Pass Mayor Rolando Salinas earlier this week. The move from the state was against the wishes of city officials.

Border Patrol agents had routinely used the park to patrol the border, used a boat ramp to launch their boats and a staging area to inspect migrants who have been apprehended, according to a court filing from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Texas’ new actions since the government’s filing demonstrate an escalation of the state’s measures to block Border Patrol’s ability to patrol or even to surveil the border and be in a position to respond to emergencies,” Elizabeth B. Prelogar, the DOJ’s solicitor general, wrote in the filing to the Supreme Court.

Eagle Pass has been the epicenter of Abbott’s immigration enforcement efforts in the past year. Thousands of migrants have crossed the border illegally in the area, and many have been injured trying to get through the concertina wire that the state deployed on the banks of the Rio Grande.

Sneha Dey is an education reporter for The Texas Tribune. This story is published courtesy of the Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.