Authorities are searching for a Texas Army National Guard soldier assigned to a border enforcement mission who went missing along the Rio Grande during a “mission related incident” Friday morning, the Texas Military Department said.
“We are aware of reports of a fatality, although those reports are inaccurate,” the statement says. “The Texas Military Department, Texas DPS and Border Patrol are working rapidly to find the Soldier.”
Sheriff Tom Schmerber of Maverick County said the solider had been attempting to rescue a migrant struggling in the water.
The guard member went in to assist her and appeared to have been pulled away by the current, he said.
“He jumped in the river,” Schmerber said. “They never saw him come out.”
The woman made it across and was placed in the custody of Border Patrol, said Schmerber, whose department was involved early in the search.
Strong currents have created treacherous conditions for people trying to cross the Rio Grande this month, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Earlier this month, a Border Patrol Marine Unit rescued several people who were “swept off their feet” by swiftly moving water, the agency said.
Rescues are common in the river and attempted border crossings can be deadly. Schmerber said it’s common to find bodies of migrants along his county’s section of the river.
The solider was assigned to Operation Lone Star, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s controversial immigration enforcement mission.
The Texas governor’s office is working with the Texas National Guard as they search for the missing soldier, Abbott said on Twitter Friday afternoon.
Friday’s incident comes roughly one year into a ramping up of border enforcement along the Rio Grande as a part of Operation Lone Star.
When Operation Lone Star launched in March 2021, Abbott said, “We will surge the resources and law enforcement personnel needed to confront this crisis,” blaming the Biden administration for policies that he said invited illegal immigration and roiled the border in a growing humanitarian crisis.
A central focus of Operation Lone Star was the arrest and detention of people crossing the border. The effort has been strongly criticized for militarizing the border and interfering with immigration enforcement, a federal responsibility.
Guardsmen themselves have also voiced a litany of complaints about poor conditions during their mission, including massive COVID-19 outbreaks.
Contributing: Tony Plohetski, Chuck Lindell and Katie Hall, Austin American-Statesman; The Associated Press