NEW: More than two dozen Democratic members of Congress have called on the federal government to investigate whether Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s new criminal justice system for migrants violates the U.S. Constitution. https://t.co/vXHVTWQcF9— Texas Tribune (@TexasTribune) October 29, 2021
“Until President Biden and his Administration do their job to enforce the laws of our nation and protect Americans, the State of Texas will continue stepping up to secure our border and protect our communities,” said Renae Eze, a spokesperson for Abbott.
Yeah, about that:
In response to increasing illegal border crossings, Abbott since July has directed Texas state police to arrest migrants on state criminal charges. Almost all of the arrests have been for alleged trespassing on private property in Val Verde and Kinney counties.
Since the arrests began, local judicial systems have been overwhelmed, consistently holding hundreds of men without filing charges and at times going weeks without appointing them lawyers, in violation of state law.
“These operations have continued to militarize Texas’ border communities and interfered with the federal immigration system, likely violating the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution,” the members wrote. “Even more egregiously, these programs have directly led to a violation of state laws and constitutional due process rights.”
And even as Dan Crenshaw rails against Biden for trying to clean up Trump's mess, Gov. Abbott is re-recreating that mess for the state of Texas to pay for:
As the trooper’s SUV took off down the dusty road, Nerio was presumably off to be booked at a just-erected processing tent outside the local jail, have bail set over Zoom by a retired judge from elsewhere in the state, then sent more than 100 miles away to a Texas prison recently converted into a jail for migrants. Left behind, his wife would be taken to the federal immigration processing center, to begin deportation or asylum proceedings.
But the hundreds of Texas Department of Public Safety officers deployed to the region are only supposed to arrest unaccompanied men for trespassing if they cross the Texas-Mexico border onto private property, the Val Verde County sheriff said. Families and children are supposed to be handed over to U.S. Border Patrol agents.
“DPS should not have separated the husband and wife. That’s a family unit,” Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez said, minutes after witnessing the arrest.
Yeah, that's happened more than once:
Antonio was released from prison last week after Val Verde County’s misdemeanor-level prosecutor dropped the trespassing charge at his first court hearing because state troopers aren’t supposed to separate families under Abbott’s arrest orders.
And all Abbott's doing is making the problem worse:
Once Antonio was out of the prison, it quickly became clear that local, state and federal officials had no idea what to do with him. Stuck in a bureaucratic limbo, he ended up at the home of his court-appointed defense attorney for days.
Typically, migrants apprehended crossing the border are turned over to federal immigration authorities, who either deport them or let them stay in the country while awaiting an asylum determination. Since last month, however, hundreds of crossing migrants who police said were spotted on private property instead have been arrested for the state crime of trespassing and jailed in a retooled state prison.
“It really points to the fundamental problem with state law enforcement attempting to engage with immigration enforcement,” said Kate Huddleston, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “What we see here is the state interfering in that process … that now makes it difficult for someone seeking asylum to go through the process as intended and move quickly out of the border region.”
So Abbott is not "protecting" Texans; Abbott is fucking things up, and using DPS troopers to waste time and judicial resources on a political stunt.
But so far, the vast majority of the hundreds of migrants arrested and sent to the Briscoe prison under Abbott’s new “catch-and-jail” policy are accused only of trespassing on private property in Kinney and Val Verde counties, according to state and county officials. In at least 35 cases, Briscoe detainees have been accused of other crimes, like human smuggling and evading arrest, according to a prison spokesperson. The Val Verde County sheriff said nearly 20 of those were U.S. citizens accused of human smuggling in his county before Abbott’s latest initiative began in late July, but they were transferred to Briscoe as his jail overfilled.
“Statistically, these are nonviolent, non-personal offenses,” state Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston, said at a legislative hearing last week on a proposal for the state to spend nearly $2 billion on increased border security efforts. “It’s literally walking across somebody’s property.”
Most of those held in the prison are Mexican nationals, the prison reported. Because of the coronavirus, Mexican migrants apprehended by federal immigration authorities near the border are usually now immediately sent back, according to Kat Russell, an attorney with the immigrant legal services group RAICES.
State police are arresting the migrants, and a state prison is holding them, but it’s up to the small-town prosecutors and judges to resolve their cases. Kinney County’s modest court system is now handling hundreds of court cases when it’s more accustomed to single digits.
That led to at least 155 migrants being jailed for weeks at the Briscoe state prison without lawyers, according to court officials and attorneys.
They could be immediately returned to Mexico. But thanks to Abbott, they're stuck in Texas; until they are released by a court without being charged, and then they can't find their way back into the asylum system, or get returned by Border Patrol.
“We can’t have a country or a system where people are being rounded up like this and sort of tucked away and hidden without the oversight and respective rights that the Constitution demands,” said Amrutha Jindal, a Houston defense attorney whose organization, Restoring Justice, was recently assigned to represent dozens of migrants. “The system crumbles without due process.”
Under Texas law, criminal defendants must be assigned an attorney within three days of asking for one. State statute also requires that defendants be released from jail if prosecutors delay cases by not filing charges quickly. For trespassing, the charge on which the vast majority of the imprisoned migrants were arrested, that deadline is set at 15 or 30 days, depending on the charge level.
Which is why so many such defendants are being released from Texas jails after 15 days. As for the assault on due process, that just raises the question: bug? or feature? What does Dan Crenshaw have to say, I wonder?
Suddenly the complaints of the GOP about paying families damages for what Trump did seem almost criminal in their own right.