Last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio joined a group of other mayors on a trip to Tornillo, Tex., where they tried unsuccessfully to get into a detention center for immigrant children who had been separated from their parents under President Donald Trump’s crackdown on people crossing the border illegally.
In doing so, Mr. de Blasio hoped to garner attention for the children’s plight, and to what he said on Wednesday was a “broken and horrendous policy.”
The mayor has ultimately succeeded in getting attention for his trip — but not for the intended reasons.
The Customs and Border Protection recently sent a letter to the New York police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, accusing Mr. de Blasio, his police security detail and other people traveling with him of having crossed the border illegally and ignoring the instructions of a border patrol agent.
Mr. de Blasio scoffed at the accusation, first reported by The Associated Press, and called it “absolutely ridiculous.” But he refused to answer questions about the incident, both in the morning while arriving at City Hall and later during an event in Brooklyn, and he did little to clarify what had actually happened.
After the mayors were turned away from the detention center last month, Mr. de Blasio decided to drive into Mexico to get a view of the detention center from the other side of the border.
Mr. de Blasio was accompanied by his security detail; the mayor of Austin, Tex., Steve Adler; an Austin city councilman; and a few other people. The group first crossed legally from the United States into Mexico at an international bridge in Tornillo.
Accounts differ on what happened next. An El Paso sector chief patrol agent, Aaron Hull, wrote in the letter, dated June 25, that after crossing into Mexico, Mr. de Blasio and his group trekked back across the border on foot in illegal fashion, according to a person who reviewed the letter.
The person said the letter described a scene in which a uniformed border agent observed a group of between 10 and 12 people walking in a restricted area in the United States near the Tornillo detention facility.
When the agent approached the group, one person came forward and identified himself as a New York Police Department inspector, according to the person who reviewed the letter.
The letter says that the agent told the group to stay where they were until a supervisor could come — but the group ignored him and left, returning to the Mexican side. They later returned to the United States through the official checkpoints.
The letter appeared to be an attempt to memorialize that these events happened, the person said, and that the actions are violations that carry civil penalties or be subject to criminal prosecution. But the letter does not indicate that federal officials intended to take further steps.
In addressing the contretemps on Wednesday, during an appearance at a public housing complex in Brooklyn, the mayor denied having disobeyed an order from a border agent but did not deny or even address the central accusation of federal officials — that he had strayed across the border illegally.
Mr. de Blasio said that after he was turned away from the detention center, his security detail spoke with the border patrol about traveling into Mexico.
“The border agents consulted with their supervisor and they agreed, and they let our cars cross the American border into Mexico at a normal checkpoint,” Mr. de Blasio said. “While we were there, we were told where the border line was and we respected it.”
He added: “At no point did we disregard any instructions from federal authorities, period.”
Mr. de Blasio suggested that the Trump administration had leaked the letter to take attention away from the issue of family separation and cast it as an effort to intimidate him.
“Threats by the Trump administration will not stop me from speaking out,” he said.
Mayor Adler and the Austin councilman, Greg Casar, echoed Mr. de Blasio’s message and denied that they had been detained at any point. “If this is an attempt to intimidate or silence such calls, it won’t work,” Mr. Adler said in a statement.
The Police Department refused to provide a copy of the letter.
The border at Tornillo is in the Rio Grande, but an official with the International Boundary and Water Commission in El Paso said that very little water is in that section of the river at this time of year.
New York officials have said that more than 300 children separated from their parents at the border have been brought to New York to be temporarily placed with foster families here.
Border Patrol officials did not respond to requests for comment.
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