A Texas National Guard member shot and wounded a man along the Rio Grande in the El Paso area Saturday evening, firing across the border into Mexican territory, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of the shooting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it.
The soldier was deployed as part of Operation Lone Star, the border security mobilization directed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) that has lined the Rio Grande with U.S. troops, concertina wire and other impediments in an effort to reduce illegal crossings.
The Texas Military Department, which oversees the National Guard, said Monday that a soldier at the border had “discharged a weapon” and that the incident was under investigation. “More information will be made available as the investigation progresses,” the department said in a statement. Ericka Miller, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the shooting is also being investigated by the Texas Rangers, the state’s investigative police agency.
Shooting incidents in which U.S. forces fire into Mexican territory are generally rare, although prominent Republicans, including several 2024 presidential candidates, have called for escalating U.S. military force against criminal organizations on the Mexican side of the border.
News accounts in Mexico identified the wounded man as a Mexican migrant who was attempting to reach the United States from Ciudad Juárez when he was struck by gunfire from U.S. authorities. The man is in stable condition, according to the accounts.
Mexico’s Foreign Ministry has not addressed the incident, and officials there did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
U.S. Border Patrol agents were not involved in the shooting, according to two Customs and Border Protection officials.
According to one of the CBP officials, who was briefed on what happened, the Texas Guard member opened fire after three men on the Mexican side of the border started attacking a group of migrants with a knife as the migrants attempted to cross the river.
“One of the bandits was trying to stab the migrants, and that’s when the National Guard fired,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the incident. The official said details are hazy.
While it is extremely unusual for U.S. personnel to fire a weapon into Mexico, the soldier’s use of force would probably be justified if the lives of the migrants were in immediate danger, the official said. Criminal gangs typically charge hundreds of dollars to migrants seeking to cross into the United States, and the gangsters enforce their toll collection system with lethal violence.
Adam Isacson, a security analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights advocacy organization, said it is rare for a U.S. soldier on U.S. soil to discharge their weapon against a civilian.
“This is not something you’d want to see become normalized, and they’re really going to have to prove there was an imminent risk of a loss of life or serious injury,” Isacson said.
He noted it was the second time this year that Texas National Guard personnel assigned to Operation Lone Star have shot someone.
The other incident occurred in the lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas on Jan. 15. Soldiers confronted a group of migrants in an abandoned house. One man suffered a gunshot wound after a struggle, but the injuries weren’t life-threatening, according to the Associated Press.
The U.S. Border Patrol was involved in six cross-border shootings between 2010 and 2012, but the agency has not had an incident since then, Isacson said.
Abbott, a fierce critic of President Biden’s immigration policies, has directed $4 billion in state funds to Operation Lone Star. Immigrant advocacy organizations and some Democrats say the governor’s campaign relies on brutal tactics that put migrants at greater risk of harm. The Biden administration is suing to force Texas to remove a floating barrier system Abbott has installed in the Rio Grande to block migrants from wading or swimming across the river.
Republican presidential candidates such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have repeatedly pledged to take even more aggressive measures along the border, including sending troops into Mexico to pursue drug traffickers and criminal groups. Mexican officials have said such actions would be tantamount to an invasion by the United States of its top trade partner.
Arelis R. Hernández contributed to this report.