• Thu. Mar 23rd, 2023


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Texas National Guard Soldier Feared Drowned in Rio Grande

HOUSTON — A member of the Texas National Guard was missing and believed drowned in the Rio Grande on Friday while stationed along the river, as part of a mission ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott to help prevent illegal border crossings, according to two officials briefed on the matter.

The Texas Military Department, in a brief statement, said the Guard member “has gone missing along the river during a mission related incident” as part of his assignment with the border mission, known as Operation Lone Star. “The soldier has not been found,” the department said, adding that an active search was underway.

The guardsman, who was not immediately named, had been attempting to rescue a migrant woman as she struggled in the water, according to one of the officials, Sheriff Tom Schmerber of Maverick County, which includes the city of Eagle Pass, where the incident occurred.

The woman had been crossing as part of a relatively small group of migrants on Friday morning, the sheriff said. The guardsman went in to assist her, and appeared to have been pulled away by the current at around 8:30 a.m., the sheriff said. The woman survived and made it across the river to the United States, he said.

“It’s very dangerous, this river, the Rio Grande — it’s very tricky,” said Sheriff Schmerber, who is a former U.S. Border Patrol officer.

The sheriff said the county had seen about two drownings of migrants a week. But the drowning of any law enforcement officer during border operations is considerably more rare. “When I was in the Border Patrol, we advised never to jump after anybody,” he said.

The apparent drowning comes at a time of pitched political debate over how to handle a surge of migrants at the southern border and whether to end a Trump-era public health rule that has allowed federal agents to quickly turn back many migrants who arrived at the border during the coronavirus pandemic. That rule, known as Title 42, is expected to expire in late May, though President Biden is under pressure from Republicans and some Democrats to extend it. Federal officials have been preparing for an influx of as many as 18,000 migrants a day after Title 42 ends.

Mr. Abbott has said that the Biden administration has done little to secure the border from illegal crossings, which surged last year, and he has sharply increased the number of state law enforcement agents at the border with Mexico.

Last year, Mr. Abbott, a two-term Republican who is up for re-election in the fall, ordered thousands of Texas National Guard troops to patrol the border, a mission that was expected to cost more than $2 billion a year. Some Guard members described the assignment as hastily arranged, disorganized and politically motivated.

At the same time, the number of migrants who died or were reported missing while attempting to cross into the United States sharply increased last year, with more than 600 deaths recorded by the International Organization for Migration.

Tiffany Burrow, director of the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition, said that though many migrants had perished in the often-dangerous river currents, the apparent drowning of the guardsman on Friday demonstrated the dangers to law enforcement agents.

“Border Patrol and the guards put their lives on the line in moments like that,” Ms. Burrow said.

Edgar Sandoval contributed reporting.