An email allegedly from a trooper with the Texas Department of Public Safety has sparked outrage in the United States due to its descriptions of perilous border crossings and “inhumane” policies.
The message — reportedly written by paramedic and trooper Nicholas Wingate — seeks to highlight “concerns” that have arisen during Operation Lone Star, a Texas programme to combat undocumented migration and smuggling across the US-Mexico border.
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“I truly believe in the mission of Operation Lone Star,” Wingate writes, citing the need to “secure the border from bad people”.
But, he continues, “I believe we have stepped over a line”. He explains that he has been ordered to “push” back migrants at risk of drowning in the Rio Grande River and has witnessed devastating injuries to those who try to cross.
“We need to recognize that these are people who are made in the image of God and need to be treated as such,” he writes.
The Houston Chronicle first reported on the letter, dated July 3 and addressed to Sergeant Colin Kolupski.
The email’s contents have renewed scrutiny of border policy on a state and national level, as immigration continues to be a defining issue in US politics.
In her daily briefing, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre addressed Tuesday’s news reports about the email, calling its contents “truly troubling”.
“We saw those reports. Clearly, if they are true, it is abhorrent. It is despicable. It is dangerous. And we’re talking about the bedrock values of who we are as a country,” she said.
“The indecency, the human indecency, that we’re seeing — potentially, if this is true — is just wrong. It is just completely, completely wrong.”
Her remarks also took a swipe at Texas Governor Greg Abbott, the Republican whose administration launched Operation Lone Star and who has been a vocal critic of President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.
“I would say, sadly, it would not be surprising from a governor who — let’s not forget — on Christmas Eve put migrant children on the streets in below-zero degree temperatures,” Jean-Pierre said, referring to an incident in 2022 when a bus from Texas deposited migrants and asylum seekers outside Vice President Kamala Harris’s house in Washington, DC.
For his part, Abbott responded to the email’s revelations by denying that lives were intentionally put at risk along the border.
“No orders or directions have been given under Operation Lone Star that would compromise the lives of those attempting to cross the border illegally,” a joint statement from the governor’s office said.
The press release, however, did defend Texas’s use of concertina wire, also known as razor wire, a method Wingate highlighted in his email.
“Texas is deploying every tool and strategy to deter and repel illegal crossings between ports of entry,” the governor’s statement read. “The absence of these tools and strategies — including concertina wire that snags clothing — encourages migrants to make potentially life-threatening and illegal crossings.”
Wingate, however, described the concertina wire as causing significant injury. A 19-year-old woman, he said, was stuck in the wire on June 30, doubled over and “in obvious pain”.
“We cut her out of the wire and medically assessed her. She was pregnant and was having a miscarriage,” he wrote.
On the same day, Wingate said the concertina wire forced a 15-year-old child to walk through the river, “where it is unsafe to travel”. The teen ultimately broke his leg.
Another child, this one only four years old, was allegedly “pressed back” after attempting to cross the wire on June 30. She ultimately passed out “due to exhaustion” as afternoon temperatures soared.
Wingate called for the wire barrier “to be manned and patrolled constantly” to avoid further injury.
“The wire on the shore needs to be lighted at night so people can see the wire and not stumble into it as a trap,” he added.
Wingate was also critical of orders he had received, instructing him and others to “push the people back into the water” of the Rio Grande “to go to Mexico”.
Faced with “several small children and babies who were nursing”, Wingate said he feared “the very real potential of exhausted people drowning”.
After expressing this concern to his commanding officer, he and the other members of his patrol were permitted to leave, and border patrol agents arrived to process the migrants and asylum seekers.
Texas has been amping up its border protections in recent years, recently installing a floating barrier in the middle of the Rio Grande to deter crossings near the city of Eagle Pass.
Governor Abbott has also appealed to other states to deploy National Guard troops and other law enforcement personnel to the border, in an effort to crack down on irregular immigration. Approximately 14 Republican-led states have answered the call.
But Abbott’s border policies have attracted criticism for being heavy-handed, if not life-threatening. The Mexican government has also denounced the floating barrier as potentially violating border treaties between the two countries.
Wingate, in his email, noted measures that force migrants and asylum seekers to return to Mexico could even contribute to crime along the border.
“Forcing refugees to cross back,” he wrote, “is putting them back in the hands of the Cartels where they are assaulted robbed and raped”.