On Wednesday, the Texas Observer published a detailed account of how the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency allegedly lied about a serious automobile accident involving a van carrying undocumented Central American mothers headed to a detention center in Texas—an accident which, despite witnesses and a detailed police report, ICE initially denied ever took place.
The crash between the van and a Ford F-250 truck occurred on July 18 outside a gas station off of Texas’ Interstate 35. Inside the van, which was being driven by an employee of the ICE-contracted Trailboss Enterprises, were eight undocumented women en route from Austin, TX, to the South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, TX, about two hour away.
Citing police reports obtained by the magazine, the Observer wrote that:
The four women said they were not instructed to wear seat belts. In the accident report, a San Marcos Police Department officer assessed the damage to the van as a 4 on a 1-to-7 scale, and said the vehicle was towed. An ambulance was dispatched to the scene, but no one was taken to the hospital. (The mothers said they refused to go to the hospital because they feared it would delay or prevent them from being reunified with their children).
“The crash was really strong, like maybe we were going to flip,” one van passenger, speaking with the Observer under the condition of anonymity, said. Others described injuries that lasted well after the group was delivered to the detention facility in Pearsall.
Despite the ample evidence of the severity of the crash, ICE officials denied there’d been an accident for nearly three weeks to the Observer, at one point telling the paper: “Your sources misinformed you. There was no crash.”
Finally, after the Observer obtained the police report on the crash and interviewed some of the women involved, ICE came clean, brushing off the incident as a “fender bender” which left both the van and the truck with “minor damage.”
In an email to Splinter, spokesperson Adelina Prudena reiterated that it was “NOT a vehicle crash but a fender bender,” and added the following statement:
On July 18, 2018, eight female detainees were transferred by van from the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas, to the South Texas Detention Complex (STDC) in Pearsall, Texas. During the transfer, the ICE transportation contractor stopped at a gas station at about 4 p.m. in San Marcos, Texas. While exiting the parking lot the van was involved in a fender bender with a pick-up truck that was turning into the parking lot, which resulted in minor damage to both vehicles. Both vehicles remained operable. EMS evaluated the detainees on site and were cleared to travel; they declined any further medical attention. STDC medical personnel did not report any injuries or any complications
The local Police Department was notified and produced a report of the incident.
The statement, however, doesn’t address the Observer’s claim that ICE initially denied that the accident took place.
This is hardly the first time ICE has been accused of fudging—if not outright denying—the truth. Last year, emails obtained from the agency showed ICE officials had pushed hard to frame a recent mass immigration sweep as having targeted solely hardened and dangerous criminals, despite a huge portion of those caught up in the dragnet having only minor—if any—criminal records. And this past spring, former ICE spokesperson James Schwab left the agency and accused his higher-ups of pushing him to “perpetuate misleading facts.”