A CNN story published yesterday sounds like something a high school student would learn about in a U.S. history unit about Jim Crow in the 1950s or labor crackdowns in the 1880s. But it’s apparently business as usual in Texas in the 2020s.
Seven months ago Gov. Greg Abbott (R) inaugurated “Operation Lone Star,” a $3 billion crackdown at the Texas-Mexico border that he portrayed as a response to Joe Biden’s non-continuation of some of Donald Trump’s hardline border policies. Since then, Texas state police and National Guardsmen have built fences, patrolled border towns, and arrested at least 1,300 migrants.
States can’t enforce federal immigration law, so Abbott has sent cops out to arrest migrants for trespassing on private property: a crime that, in the border counties where he has declared a “state of emergency,” is punishable by months in prison. Abbott ordered the conversion of two border-zone prisons to hold migrants.
Once thrown in jail, though, some migrants are practically disappearing. In a blatant violation of the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. constitution, hundreds are going weeks or months without being charged and without any access to attorneys.
The examples CNN cites are horrifying.
The man was held in jail for 52 days before he was charged with the misdemeanor offense of criminal trespass, his attorney says. For 43 of those days — more than six weeks — he had no access to a lawyer, he told CNN. And the man said there were long gaps, sometimes two weeks, when he was not allowed to make any phone call to tell his wife how he was.
…two migrants who talked to CNN last week said they knew several men in their jail pods who had been waiting up to three months to talk to a lawyer.
One said the unrepresented men begged the others to raise their cases.
“‘Ask about us. Tell them we have 90 days, 80 days and we haven’t seen an attorney. We don’t know anything and here we are,'” he says he is told.
CNN raised the concerns with the TIDC [Texas Indigent Defense Commission]. The commission said it then located at least one person arrested in May and held in jail who did not have a lawyer. That person was assigned counsel Thursday night.
Some of those being arrested for trespassing weren’t even on private property until Texas state police forced them to step on private property.
He replays the video that, Martinez [David Martinez, the Val Verde County Attorney in charge of prosecuting misdemeanors] says, appears to show a Texas state trooper directing the migrants onto the private property before arresting one of them for trespass.
Martinez said he rejected the case.
…Martinez has more. He pulls a file he says contains the cases of 11 other migrants who alleged that law enforcement zip-tied them in pairs, walked them about 20 minutes and made them scale a 10-foot fence. They were later arrested by state troopers for criminal trespassing, documents show.
Many of those being arrested and jailed are asylum seekers. Right now, because the Biden administration continues to use the pandemic to justify maintaining Steven Miller’s policy (“Title 42”) of expelling migrants who come to ports of entry seeking asylum, the only way to ask for asylum is to cross the border between the ports of entry—which according to Gov. Abbott is an act deserving of months in prison.
Many are actually asylum seekers, according to an attorney whose legal aid group represents more than 500 of the total 1,300 people reported arrested on suspicion of criminal trespass by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“Many of them are here seeking asylum. They are educated. I have had a constitutional law professor from Venezuela. I’ve had a professional baseball player from Venezuela. We have journalists, political activists, [and] university students,” Kristin Etter of Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid told a Texas legislative committee this month.
In the end, a large number of Gov. Abbott’s prisoners are being let go with charges dropped. In many cases, because by the time they’re let go they’re no longer recent border crossers, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) doesn’t take them into custody, they just get released into Texas.
Many cases are not being prosecuted. David Martinez, the Val Verde County Attorney in charge of prosecuting misdemeanors, says from June to September he rejected or dismissed about 40% of Operation Lone Star cases.
In about 70% of those cases, he did so because the migrants were seeking asylum. In other cases, he has been troubled by the circumstances of the arrests themselves.
This is outrageous and disgusting, and the U.S. Justice Department must get involved.
But even beyond that, it‘s dismaying that this treatment of human beings—of people in a position of weakness—is something that Greg Abbott calculates will help him win re-election in the 2022 Texas governor’s race. The idea behind this is that Texans crave this kind of barbarity, and it’s a political winner for Abbott.
Texas is a conservative state (though seemingly less so every year). Still, I can’t help but think that these mass imprisonings-disappearances wouldn’t have happened under governors George W. Bush or even Rick Perry. It feels like lights keep going out in many parts of the United States right now.