Amid dramatic numbers of migrants attempting to cross into the United State illegally along the southern border, Texas has begun using state troopers to arrest and jail migrants for trespassing.
Governor Greg Abbott declared the state’s border situation a disaster last month, a characterization usually associated with natural disasters such as hurricanes, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“Our fellow Texans and our fellow Americans are being threatened every day,” he said during a news conference on the border last month. “I’m talking to people in this region. Their lives and their properties and their families are being overrun.”
Border Patrol has listed 597,000 border apprehensions in Texas since October 2020.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has prepared a 1,000-person prison south of San Antonio to use as a jail for migrants.
For the state to enforce immigration and bring charges against migrants is unusual, as immigration is typically left to the federal government. Civil rights organizations have contested the move, saying states legally cannot enforce federal immigration law. District attorneys in border counties said trespass arrests must be based on complaints from local landowners, and individuals would not be able to be held for extended amounts of time unless the bond system would be changed to accommodate the situation.
Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said no-trespassing signs or fencing will be considered implicit permission by a landowner to arrest people on his property.
Texas counties are divided on whether to accept the governor’s disaster designation and law-enforcement officers.
Abbott’s disaster order only applies to counties that declare a disaster themselves and work with the state. Officials in populous border areas such as El Paso, Laredo, and the Rio Grande Valley, which sees the most border crossings, have declined to participate. They said they are familiar with increased numbers of migrants, having seen upswings in 2014 an 2018 and 2019. They said the increased immigration numbers have not impacted crime or the local economy.
“We concluded we could not in good faith tell the people of our counties there is an emergency when there’s not an emergency,” said Richard Cortez, county judge of the Rio Grande Valley’s Hidalgo County, who oversees disaster responses in an official capacity.