The Justice Department is assessing the situation along the Texas-Mexico border following reports that Texas troopers were told to push back migrants into the Rio Grande and ordered not to give them water, calling those reports “troubling” in a statement to CNN.
The Justice Department’s statement is the first public acknowledgment that the department is assessing the situation but falls short of opening an investigation. An assessment could be the first step toward an investigation.
“The department is aware of the troubling reports, and we are working with DHS and other relevant agencies to assess the situation,” DOJ spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa told CNN.
The inspector general for the Texas Department of Public Safety has received several additional complaints from DPS personnel on the front lines at the Texas-Mexico border about the treatment of migrants trying to enter the United States, three sources familiar with the investigation told CNN.
In a Tuesday joint statement with other Texas top officials, including Department of Public Safety Chief Steve McCraw, Gov. Greg Abbott’s office said there have been no orders or directions given under Operation Lone Star that “would compromise the lives of those attempting to cross the border illegally.”
The Biden administration has repeatedly criticized Abbott’s actions along the US southern border and his decision to transport migrants to Democratic-led cities without coordination. CNN previously reported that the Department of Homeland Security and Justice Department were in ongoing discussions about what actions could be taken against the state.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Wednesday called Abbott’s recent actions at the border a “political stunt” and “shameful” when asked about concerns from the Mexican government over the state’s floating barriers.
“I saw these reports and I think one of the things and I’ve been very clear about this that this governor has done over and over again is treated this situation we’re seeing at the border in an inhumane way. It is atrocious – the actions that he decides to take. … Instead of dealing with this issue in a way that we can get to a resolution and are working together, he turns it into a political stunt,” Jean-Pierre said Wednesday.
“This is not surprising. Just yesterday I was asked about abandoned children – or migrant children – not offering them water. This is what we see over and over and over again from this Texas governor, from Gov. Abbott and it is – all we’re asking for – as a country and what we should hold near and dear is the basic human decency. Basic human decency and we are just not seeing this from this governor.”
Jean-Pierre said she would not speak to the “legal piece” of the situation, adding she would refer any legal action to the Department of Justice.
Internal discussions about legal action against Texas date back to last year, when Abbott began sending migrants to cities nationwide without alerting them and have continued with the deployment of buoys in the Rio Grande, which pose a potential drowning risk to migrants and now, concern over the treatment of migrants.
Texas is already facing a lawsuit against its installation of a marine floating barrier. The owner of a Texas canoe and kayaking company filed the lawsuit earlier this month on the same day that Texas started deploying buoys for the barrier in an attempt to deter migrant crossings on the river along the US-Mexico border.
That suit lists the state of Texas and Abbott, as well as the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard.
It’s unclear whether the administration will take legal action against Texas, and officials have stressed that border agents have historically worked closely with Texas National Guard and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
But it wouldn’t mark the first time the Justice Department has sued on border-related matters. Last year, the Justice Department sued Arizona for placing shipping containers along the US southern border – a move taken by then-Republican Gov. Doug Ducey as an affront to Biden’s immigration policies. Arizona eventually agreed to remove the containers.
This story has been updated with additional details.