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Texas congressman says migrants drowned near area where US Border Patrol had access restricted


BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A Texas congressman said Saturday that three migrants, including two children, drowned while trying to reach the U.S. near the border city of Eagle Pass, where the Biden administration says Texas has begun denying access to Border Patrol agents.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, accused the state of failing to act amid escalating tensions between Texas and the U.S. government over immigration enforcement. On Friday, the Justice Department told the U.S. Supreme Court that Texas had taken control of an area known as Shelby Park and were not letting Border Patrol agents enter.

The park is in Eagle Pass, which is a major crossing point for migrants entering from Mexico and is the center of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's aggressive attempts to stop illegal crossings, known as Operation Lone Star. Migrants are periodically killed when swept away by currents of the Rio Grande.

An Abbott spokesperson referred questions to the Texas Military Department, which did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Saturday.

Cuellar, whose district include the Texas border, said Mexican authorities alerted Border Patrol of the distressed migrants struggling in the river late Friday. He said federal agents attempted to call and relay the information to Texas National Guard members at Shelby Park with no success. Agents then visited the entrance to the park but were turned away, according to the congressman, who said the agents were told a Guard member would be sent to investigate the situation.

“This is a tragedy, and the State bears responsibility,” read a statement from Cuellar, who is the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on Homeland Security.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection had no immediate comment.

The 50-acre park is owned by the city, but it is used by the state Department of Public Safety and the Texas Military Department to patrol border crossings. Although daily crossings diminished from the thousands to about 500, state authorities put up fences and stationed military vehicles by the entry to deny access to the public and Border Patrol agents this week, according to a court filing this week.

On Saturday, Texas submitted a response to the court that disputed claims that Border Patrol agents were denied access to the park. They argued Border Patrol had scaled down its presence since the summer, when the state moved their resources and manpower to the park.

Federal agents were also granted access to the area to secure supplies, the state response added.

Cuellar said there was no immediate information available about the victims' nationalities, relationship and ages.

On Saturday, members of the public held a ceremony at the park to mark the deaths of migrants in their region. Julio Vasquez, a pastor in attendance, said access was granted after making extended requests with the city and sharing pictures showing the entry still fenced up and guarded by members of the National Guard and military vehicles.