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Texas National Guard denies ignoring a migrant’s call for help

By Caroll Alvarado and Cheri Mossburg, CNN

(CNN) — The Texas National Guard Thursday denied claims from an immigration activist that it ignored a migrant calling out for help as she struggled to cross the Rio Grande with a child in her arms.

Video footage obtained by CNN shows a woman holding a crying baby in her arms in the Rio Grande yelling for help, as members of the Texas National Guard watch from two nearby boats, but do not intervene.

The video was shot by Priscilla Lugo, a justice advocate coordinator with the non-profit, Latino Justice PRLDEF, a civil rights organization.

Lugo told CNN she witnessed the incident on Tuesday, December 12, while she was on the Rio Grande, in Eagle Pass, with a colleague and a boat guide working on a digital media project related to public safety and Operation Lone Star, a Texas state government initiative to curb illegal immigration.

The entire incident lasted about seven minutes according to Lugo, and began when a group of four people, which included two men, a woman and a child tried to enter the United States from Mexico by crossing the river, Lugo said.

The two men successfully crossed the river while the woman, who was carrying a child who looked about 3-4 years old, struggled to cross the river.

The video was recorded one week before US Border Patrol processed – on Tuesday alone – 10,500 migrants who crossed the US-Mexico border unlawfully, according to a Homeland Security official.

“Hey, please help me!,” the woman yells at one of the boats carrying two Texas National Guardsmen, the video shows.

“I’m begging you, please help me,” the woman pleads with the guardsmen while the child she’s carrying cries. 

“I can’t anymore. Please bring the boat closer,” the woman continues to say in the video. “Help me! Please don’t abandon me here.”

As the woman continues to plead for help, the guardsmen remain on the boat nearby but do not actively assist the woman. Lugo said the guardsmen stood by and watched and eventually the woman made her way back to the Mexican side with her child in hand.

Another video, Lugo shared with CNN also shows a U.S. Customs and Border Protection airboat with two officers onboard going by the woman and child but not stopping to help them 

“I saw a CBP boat rushing towards the direction of the woman, and I thought they were going to help but they just rode around a few times and did nothing,” Lugo said of the encounter.

“The woman and child could have drowned, and they did nothing. I had tears in my eyes when I got off the boat. How can we not have empathy for a child at risk of drowning? How’s that safety?”

In a statement to CNN, the Texas Military Department said they “are aware of the recent video showing a woman and a child near the Mexican shoreline requesting support.”

“Texas National Guard Soldiers approached by boat and determined that there were no signs of medical distress, injury or incapacitation and they had the ability to return the short distance back to the Mexican shore. The Soldiers remained on site to monitor the situation,” they wrote.

Lugo told CNN she reached out to US Customs and Border Protection about the incident and was told CBP officers are allowed to render aid and have in the past. The agency asked Lugo to send them the videos and told her they would investigate the incident, Lugo said.

CNN has reached out to CBP for a comment.

Current and former US officials have warned the current pace of arrests at the southern border is pushing federal resources to the limit, with the system nearing a breaking point. There are more than 26,000 migrants in border custody, the official said.

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott – frustrated by what he says is the federal government’s failure to secure the border – launched Operation Lone Star in March 2021. The state deployed thousands, including National Guard members, to the US-Mexico border. Texas also installed miles of floating border barriers along the Rio Grande.

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