A member of the Texas National Guard was missing on Friday after entering the river along the US-Mexico border to help a migrant who was struggling to swim across, according to a local sheriff.
A woman trying to cross the Rio Grande from Mexico got halfway to the other side when she appeared to start going underwater, Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber said. The rescue attempt took place near Eagle Pass, in a section of the river known for strong currents.
“He jumped into the river,” Schmerber said. “They never saw him come out.”
He said the Guardsman, who has not been identified, took off his jacket and left his radio before entering the water. The woman crossed over and was taken into Border Patrol custody, said Schmerber, whose department was involved early in the search.
The Texas National Guard said in a statement that state troopers and Border Patrol agents are also helping. The water rescue attempt took place around 8:30 a.m., according to Schmerber.
The Guard member was assigned to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s extensive border security mission, known as Operation Lone Star, which deployed thousands of Guard members across the southern Texas border from 1,200 miles (1,920 kilometers) since its launch last year. The multi-billion dollar operation also includes a heavy presence of state troopers and allows members of the Guard to help make arrests.
The mission has come under scrutiny over migrants sitting in border jails for months for trespassing and low morale among Guard members due to living conditions, long deployments and little to To do.
Migrant rescues are common in the river along the Texas border, and attempted crossings are also sometimes deadly. Schmerber said the bodies of up to two migrants a week are sometimes found along his county’s section of the river.
Schmerber, a former Border Patrol officer, said members of the Guard usually did not enter the water to attempt rescues and that was the first incident he remembered. He estimated that the part of the river where the rescue attempt took place was about 70 to 80 yards (64 to 73 yards) wide.
“This river is very dangerous. These are strong currents,” Schmerber said. “It’s risky to cross the river like that.”