Hearst Newspapers reported Monday on an email from a trooper from the Department of Public Safety who wrote that the state’s policies along the southern border have “stepped over a line into the inhumane.”
The trooper describes incidents in which migrants attempting to cross the border were injured by razor wire on the Texas side of the Rio Grande, as well as troopers being ordered to push groups of people, including children, back into the water, and denying them water.
Ben Wermund, the Washington correspondent for the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News who broke the story, joined the Standard to share more.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Tell us more about this email you obtained: Who sent it, and how did you get it?
Ben Wermund: So this email was sent by a trooper working in Eagle Pass. Last month he sent it to a superior officer, raising a series of concerns about incidents he’d seen where he felt migrants were being mistreated – treated, as he said, inhumanely.
That includes a case where a pregnant woman was found caught in razor wire the state had put up having a miscarriage. A 4-year-old girl had been trying to cross the wire and was pushed back by Texas National Guard soldiers; she then passed out from heat exhaustion. Another case, a teenager broke his leg when he was trying to navigate the river to get around the razor wire and had to be carried by his father.
So he sort of was raising all of these issues to his superior in the department.
You wrote that the author of the email also suggested that there in addition to the wire on the shore, the state has also set so-called traps in the river itself. Can you say more about that?
Right. He wrote about another instance in which he encountered a man with a cut in his leg who said he got the cut when he was trying to free his child from what he described as a barrel that was wrapped with razor wire that was in the water. And so he had it cut his leg open, trying to free his child from that.
Has the Department of Public Safety had any response to these claims so far?
Yeah. So the DPS Director Steve McCraw sent an email over the weekend calling for a full audit to look into what more can be done to protect migrants against these types of injuries that are detailed in this email. A spokesperson also denied that the department has any policies against giving water to migrants, which was another allegation that was raised in the email.
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The the trooper who wrote the email, I understand, also outlined some suggestions for policy changes to improve safety. What were some of those?
Right. He called for reversing the policy, which DPS contests, against giving water to migrants. He called for removing those barrels with a wire wrapped around them, which he referred to as traps. And he called for basically more closely monitoring the razor wire and keeping it sort of more well-lit and more obvious for migrants to be able to spot, so they’re not getting caught in it on accident.
Your reporting was also shared on social media by Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro, who stated he’s urging the Biden administration to intervene. Do you have any idea of what that could look like?
I don’t know at this point. I do know that he said that he raised this issue in a conversation last night with Antony Blinken, the secretary of state. And the Department of Justice has reportedly been investigating Operation Lone Star, which is the border security initiative that this is part of, for at least a year.
Now, there were stories that came out a year ago that there was a civil rights investigation under way by the department, but they have not responded to my requests for an update on that so far. It’s a little unclear right now where this might go from here.
Is there any appetite among decision makers, as far as you can tell, for removing that razor wire?
There have definitely been calls to do so, especially from Texas Democrats and people who are already opposed to this in the first place. Obviously, this is happening as Governor Greg Abbott is putting up a wall of buoys in the Rio Grande, which has led to additional calls to reverse that and concerns from immigration rights groups and humanitarian organizations about potential drownings around that. So there’s already sort of a growing pressure on the governor to reconsider some of these measures.