Immigration

Texas Arrested Almost 6,000 Migrants At The Border Since July On Gov. Abbott’s New Trespassing Charge

Gov. Greg Abbott ordered DPS to begin arresting migrants who cross the Rio Grande on state charges of trespassing in an attempt to deter them from crossing earlier this year.

In this Wednesday, June 16, 2021 file photo, A Texas Department of Public Safety officer in Del Rio, Texas directs a group of migrants who crossed the border and turned themselves in. The Biden administration sued Texas on Friday, July 30, 2021 to prevent state troopers from stopping vehicles carrying migrants on grounds that they may spread COVID-19, warning that the practice would exacerbate problems amid high levels of crossings on the state’s border with Mexico.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has arrested almost 6,000 migrants for criminal trespassing since late July.

State authorities can not arrest people on immigration charges because that is under the purview of the federal government. But earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered DPS to begin arresting migrants who cross the Rio Grande on state charges of trespassing in an attempt to deter them from crossing.

This is part of a growing law enforcement campaign in the border region called Operation Lone Star.

"We have an infrastructure in place. We’re arresting 20 to 30 to 40 a day. There is no way a local county jail can handle that," said Victor Escalon, the DPS South Texas Regional Director at a press event.

The governor cleared Dolph Briscoe Unit, a state prison in Dilley, to serve as a jail for those detained on criminal trespassing charges. The jail can hold approximately 1,000 people, but the arrests have maxed out capacity at the location. State Troopers are now pushing migrants to Segovia Unit state prison in Hidalgo County.

Escalon said Thursday that DPS and other state agencies were going to assist in closing the Del Rio Port of Entry, where there's been a recent influx of migrants from Haiti.

In this June 15, 2021, file photo, a Border Patrol agent watches as a group of migrants walk across the Rio Grande on their way to turning themselves in upon crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in Del Rio, Texas.

"Before I came here today, my last instructions are we’re going to shut down all the POEs in Del Rio. That is the plan as of now," he said.

Abbott later released a statement that CBP had asked the state to help shut down six ports of entry but the Biden administration had reversed the decision. However, according to the Texas Tribune, a CBP spokesperson denied they ever gave such an order.

Nonetheless, Abbott announced that he deployed state troopers and the Texas National Guard to six ports of entry to "maintain their presence at and around ports of entry to deter crossings”.

Operation Lone Star has resulted in an increase of law enforcement presence in border communities, which civil rights activists fear could lead to over-policing of local residents.

According to KRGV, there's been an increase in citations for minor charges among drivers in Starr County.

State officials say they've referred more than 66,000 migrants to U.S. Customers and Border Protection since March.

CBP said there were more than 208,000 migrant crossings in August, with one-quarter of those people having attempted to cross at least once before in the past year.

CBP officials attribute the repeat crossings to Title 42, a seldom-used part of U.S. Code that deals with public health. The Trump administration enacted Title 42 to expel migrants under the pretext of stopping the spread of COVID-19. Former President Donald Trump implemented the measure at the start of the pandemic and President Biden has continued it.

But on Thursday — in a major victory for civil rights organizations — U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan found that the Title 42 policy does not authorize the expulsion of migrant families or for the government to deny them the opportunity to seek asylum. The judge granted a preliminary injunction that goes into effect in 14 days.

Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court issued an order last month requiring the Biden administration to reinstate the controversial Trump policy that forced asylum seekers to wait in dangerous conditions in Mexico for their day in court.

This story originally appeared on Texas Public Radio. TPR was founded by and is supported by the community. If you value its commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.

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