(NEW YORK) — Texas authorities are doubling down and pushing back on disturbing allegations of migrant abuse along the United States-Mexico border.
A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety, Lt. Christopher Olivarez, told ABC News during an interview on Wednesday that leadership consciences are clear over how migrants are treated by the agency.
Olivarez disputed or attempted to clear up a number of allegations that were made in an email a state trooper had sent to his superior earlier this month about what he called “inhumane” treatment of migrants attempting to enter the U.S. from the southern border in Texas. ABC News has learned that the trooper in question has been on the job for more than five years and is not permanently stationed at the border but rather was there on a rotation.
One of the key claims in the email was that troopers were directed by command to “push back” migrants attempting to cross the Rio Grande, a river that flows about 1,900 miles from Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico. The trooper said in the email that commanders only reiterated the order when concerns about drowning were raised.
Olivarez told ABC News that the trooper “misinterpreted” the order. He said that when commanders order troopers to “push back” migrants, they are directing them to verbally tell the migrants to go to a port of entry and not cross illegally. When pressed why the trooper would be so clear in his understanding that the order meant to physically push migrants into the river, Olivarez said the trooper had misunderstood and that it is not the Texas Department of Public Safety’s policy to physically push back migrants.
The trooper also alleged in the email that commanders told them not to distribute water to migrants amid extreme heat. Olivarez categorically denied that claim, telling ABC News that while it’s not their job to be a welcome committee to those attempting to cross the border, they would and have never denied water to anyone in need.
In regards to the email’s litany of alleged injuries to migrants crossing, including to a pregnant woman and children, Olivarez said there is no question that the barriers the Texas Department of Public Safety have put up along the border are dangerous. That is essentially the point, he argued, telling ABC News that the idea is to put these things in place to deter crossings.
When asked if, given the email, there should be concerns about the systemic abuse of migrants along the border, Olivarez said “no.” He said the trooper’s allegations are being investigated but that, at least initially, the email has prompted no widespread soul-searching at the Texas Department of Public Safety and will not change the scope or goals of the agency’s mission.
ABC News has obtained the original email, dated July 3, and has reached out to the trooper directly as well as the Texas State Troopers Association, the union representing the troopers, but requests for comment were not returned.
The U.S. Department of Justice “is aware of the troubling reports” and is working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security “and other relevant agencies to assess the situation,” spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa told ABC News in a statement on Wednesday.
The Inspector General of the Texas Department of Public Safety is conducting a full investigation into the allegations.
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