Buoys Placed Near Eagle Pass, Texas
A string of buoys is deployed to prevent migrants from swimming across the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass on July 13, 2023. Jordan Vonderhaar/The Texas Tribune

A woman and two children died on Friday night in the Río Grande, in Eagle Pass, when attempting to cross from Mexico to the United States.

Border Patrol authorities said they were made aware of a situation of distress but were prevented from responding by Texas national guard troops under the direction of Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

"In responding to a distress call from the Mexican government, Border Patrol agents were physically barred by Texas officials from entering the area," a border spokesperson said about the issue.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, described the event saying that Border Patrol agents "made physical contact with the Texas Military Department and the Texas National Guard at the Shelby Park Entrance Gate and verbally relayed the information. However, Texas Military Department soldiers stated they would not grant access to the migrants — even in the event of an emergency — and that they would send a soldier to investigate the situation."

The Texas Military Department, on its end, disputed the account, saying its personnel were made aware of a distress report but could find no migrants needing help in the river and later were made aware of an incident nearby, on the Mexican side of the river, that did not require their help.

"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," it said.

NBC News highlighted that the spat comes amid an ongoing battle between the Department of Homeland Security and Texas over access to the border in Eagle Pass, which DHS says is cordoned off by barbed wire erected by the state. A court in December ruled in favor of Texas and barred federal agents from removing the barriers.

The parties are at odds over immigration enforcement, with the Department of Justice filing a lawsuit claiming a new Texas law, which allows local officials to arrest and deport migrants who cross the border unlawfully is unconstitutional.

Concretely, the suit claims that the Constitution assigns the federal government, and not the states, with the responsibility to regulate immigration and enforce laws related to its international border.

SB4, as Texas' law is known, makes it a misdemeanor to illegally cross the border and a second-degree felony to do so for a second time. Punishments for this latter case range between 180 days in jail to 20 years in prison. The law also allows judges to order that undocumented people "return to the foreign nation from which they entered."

Texas governor Greg Abbott claimed that some eight million people have crossed the border illegally since Biden, a Democrat, took office in January 2021. Abbott defended the new law as constitutional, saying Texas had been left to "fend for itself." He added that the bill passed by the Republican-majority Texas state legislature was needed to "stop the tidal wave of illegal entry into Texas."

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