Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro sent a letter Wednesday to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement demanding an explanation for the agency’s misleading statements about a van crash in San Marcos involving eight separated Central American mothers.
As the Observer first reported Wednesday, the crash occurred on July 18 as an ICE contractor was taking the women from a detention center near Austin to the South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall to be reunited with their kids. Police said the van was too damaged to continue driving and the women reported injuries, but, in response to Observer requests, ICE denied the crash took place and refused to provide information for nearly three weeks.
In his letter, Castro says that activists alerted his office to the accident on July 20, and an ICE official admitted to him later that day that the incident occurred — at exactly the same time the agency was denying the crash took place to the Observer. Still, the agency’s statement to the San Antonio Democrat did not line up with the events as described by the responding police officer and four women passengers interviewed by the Observer.
According to Castro’s letter, an ICE official wrote to him that “a van with detainees was hit (fender bender) in a parking lot while waiting for another transport vehicle.” The official added that the only damage “was to the bumper of the van,” before concluding — oddly — that “there was no crash involving detainees.”
The San Marcos Police Department report states the van’s driver — an employee of the ICE transportation contractor Trailboss Enterprises — failed to stop when exiting a gas station and T-boned an F-250 pickup. The officer rated the van’s damage a 4 on a scale from 0-7 and gave the truck a 3. The van suffered “disabling damage” and was towed, police said.
The four mothers the Observer interviewed also described a significant collision, reporting the impact slammed them against the seats in front of them, resulting in headaches, dizziness, nausea and injury to one woman’s leg. “The crash was really strong, like maybe we were going to flip,” one mother said in an interview. “We were all trembling with shock from the accident; my whole body hurt,” added another.
ICE’s statement to Castro not only contradicts the police report, but also conflicts with an account that ICE finally provided to the Observer on Tuesday, after weeks of denying the incident ever took place. In that statement, sent seven hours after the agency was informed that the Observer had obtained the police report, an ICE spokesperson admitted that the collision occurred as the van was exiting a gas station, not “while waiting for another transport vehicle.” The statement, however, also labeled the incident a “fender bender,” stated that both vehicles remained “operable” and claimed that detention center personnel reported no injuries.
In the letter, addressed to ICE acting director Ronald Vitiello, Castro asks the agency to “please explain why ICE was not forthcoming about the incident when it occurred” and to explain “inconsistencies” between their statements and the police report. Castro is also seeking any records proving the women received medical evaluations at the detention center as well as information about recourse the women have for any lasting injuries. He is requesting a response by Friday, August 10.
ICE did not respond to a request for comment on Castro’s letter. The July van crash is the latest instance of Trump’s ICE providing false or misleading information, only to be later exposed.