Austin, Texas — This month, a member of the Texas National Guard shot and wounded a migrant during clashes on the US-Mexico border when the soldier tried to apprehend the man, according to state military documents that did not publicly release the incident.
This is believed to be the first time that a member of the Guards involved in a state border mission called “Operation Lone Star” wounded another person by firing a weapon. The migrant’s injuries are not life-threatening.
The January 15 shooting came to light last week after it was first reported by the Army Times and the Texas Tribune. The Texas military department did not respond to questions about how many times the guards fired their weapons since the mission began in 2021.
The shooting, described in an internal military report obtained by the Associated Press, raised concerns over a $4 billion government-run border security operation that grew in size and prestige under Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. As of Tuesday, military officials have yet to respond to questions about what happened or acknowledge the shooting.
“The state and the governor were almost the first to release information about how many people may have been detained or whether drugs were banned,” said Gil Kerlikowske, former head of the US Customs and Border Protection during the Obama administration. “It seems completely illogical that as soon as something happens that, you know, leads to some kind of question or concern, there is radio silence. It’s just a fundamental mistake.”
Firearms are not commonly used among the thousands of US border guards and officers who encounter migrants along the Rio Grande, and border officials say it is common practice to inform the public when shots are fired.
It is not clear if the soldier fired on purpose. According to an internal military briefing, the soldier followed a border patrol unit into an abandoned house on the banks of the Rio Grande, chasing four migrants. According to the report, one resisted detention and started beating and wrestling with a guardsman who drew a sidearm that “discharged once” as the migrant fell on top of him.
The migrant was shot once in the left shoulder and taken to McAllen Hospital.
The War Department referred the questions to the state police. Travis Considine, spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the Texas Rangers were investigating and that the agency was unable to provide further information. An Abbott spokesperson did not respond to a request for information about the shooting.
Kerlikowske and other critics, including a Texas border state MP who learned about the shooting from the news, say closely guarded details get in the way of what should be more open, especially when lethal force is used.
The border and the large number of migrants entering the US have become a hallmark of Abbott. who starts a record third term as governor of Texas and does not rule out running for president in 2024. Lawmakers stand ready to continue funding the mission, which includes about 5,000 guardsmen, who are authorized to make arrests.,
“I am unhappy with the lack of transparency on the part of the Texas National Guard,” said Democratic Senator Juan “Chui” Hinojosa, whose county includes the area where the shooting occurred.
Hinojosa, a member of the state Senate committee that oversees the state’s border operation, said when his staff asked the military for details, they were only told that an investigation was underway.
“Due to a lack of transparency on their part, not even notifying the legislators that this incident happened will only create additional problems for them. People are starting to think, well, they are trying to hide something,” he said.
Rod Kise, a spokesman for the border guards, said the “gunshots” incident was under review by the Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
Under Kerlikovsk, the policy of the Border Guard was to issue a statement within four hours and hold a press conference within 24 hours of violent incidents.
Border Patrol agents have been involved in an increasing number of violent incidents in recent years, although most of them did not involve firearms. In fiscal year 2022, there were 12 incidents of firearms being used by border officials at the southern border, according to federal statistics.
The National Guard Bureau has contacted the Texas National Guard leadership about the shooting, its chief, Gen. Dan Hokanson, said Tuesday.
“We are concerned about our guards, no matter what status they are in. We are in close coordination and communication with the leadership of the Texas National Guard, and I know that an investigation is currently underway related to this, ”said Hokanson. briefing at the Pentagon.
Associated Press writer Tara Kopp of Washington contributed to this report.
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