Texas Arrests Thousands of Migrants for Trespassing, but Border Crossings Remain High


Before moving to New York City this year with thousands of other refugees, Abdoul, 32, from West Africa, took a strange detour: he spent weeks in a remote Texas jail on trespassing charges after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Abdoul, a political worker who left Mauritania because he was afraid of being persecuted, said, “I spent a lot of hours sitting on the floor without sleeping.” He agreed to talk but asked that his last name not be used because he was afraid it would hurt his chances of getting refuge.

From March on, Texas will let cops arrest people who come into the state illegally and give local courts the power to send them back to their home country. Texas began a smaller operation two years ago to arrest refugees for trespassing.

This new law comes after that. But while that operation was also meant to stop people from crossing illegally, there isn’t much evidence that it has done that.

The results make people wonder how arrests work to stop people from coming to Texas illegally, especially since the state is getting ready to give cops even more power to arrest migrants on charges of illegal entry. Civil rights groups have already sued to stop the new law that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed. They say it goes too far and violates the Constitution by limiting the U.S. government’s power over immigration.

Since 2021, Texas police have arrested almost 10,000 migrants on misdemeanor trespassing charges as part of what Abbott has called an “arrest and jail” operation. Border landowners agree to let the state make arrests for trespassing, which lets police catch migrants who come into the U.S. through their properties.

Texas Arrests Thousands of Migrants for Trespassing, but Border Crossings Remain High

The arrests have been challenged in court under the Constitution, with charges of violations of due process. Recently, one homeowner asked the police to stop arresting people for trespassing on their land, saying the police never had permission to be there in the first place.

Abbott thought that the arrests for trespassing would have quick effects. It was July 2021, and 1.2 million people crossed the border between Texas and Mexico. “When people start learning about this, they’re going to stop coming across the Texas border,” he told Fox News.

Over the past calendar year, that number has gone up even more, going over 1.5 million.

“They’re still coming through here,” Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber said. In July, Abdoul crossed the line and was quickly caught.

Abbott said earlier this month that Texas might soon stop arresting people for trespassing as it moves forward with charges of illegal entry that can be used almost anywhere in the state, even hundreds of miles from the border.

Arrests for trespassing have been a key part of Abbott’s nearly $10 billion border mission, called Operation Lone Star, which has put the federal government’s control over immigration to the test.

Abbott has also put up razor wire along the border and put up buoy barriers on the Rio Grande, and he has sent about 80,000 refugees on buses to towns run by Democrats. Abbott sent a plane full of 120 migrants to Chicago last week as part of a bigger plan to bus them there.

A lot of people have been arrested in Maverick County, which shows that the goal is real. Along the two-lane roads that lead to Eagle Pass, or Eagle Pass, there are patrol cars stopped every few miles. Along the Rio Grande, Florida state cops work with Texas officials. Florida is one of several GOP-led states that has sent National Guard troops and police to the border.

Abdoul was caught in Shelby Park in the city, a small green space next to the river with a ramp for boats. Abdoul’s first day in the United States was July 4th. Some close police officers asked him a few questions and then quickly arrested him.

He said that the food in jail was very small and that he was so unhappy that he would say anything to get out. He admitted to trespassing, which is a crime that can get you up to a year in jail.

An unknown number of those caught at the border for trespassing stayed in the U.S., were sent back to their home country, were allowed to stay to seek protection, or had their cases thrown out.

But Kristen Etter, an attorney whose firm has helped more than 3,000 refugees facing trespassing charges, said that most of their clients were allowed to stay and ask for protection.

She said that a lot of refugees go to the border to find police because they want to give up. “Rather than keeping people away, it’s drawing more of them in,” she said.

The Texas Department of Public Safety is in charge of the trespassing arrests. The department said that the state’s border operation has led to more than 37,000 arrests for other crimes. Ericka Miller, a spokesperson, said that police have stopped gang members, people traffickers, sex criminals, and other people from entering the country.

Miller wrote in an email, “Had we not been there, all of it probably would have crossed into the country without any problems.” People who are thinking about coming into the country illegally should think twice, says the state of Texas.

The mayor of Eagle Pass, Rolando Salinas, signed a statement for a blanket trespassing charge that let people like Abdoul be arrested in a park during a July surge in migrant crossings. After getting bad feedback from people in the area, he took back the document and signed it again a few weeks later. In the end, Salinas said, he backs the plan because it has brought much-needed police officers to the city.

Saldías said, “Our force is not big enough to keep Eagle Pass safe when 15,000 to 20,000 people come through.”

The new arrest law that Abbott signed this month was written by State Rep. David Spiller. He said that he thinks there would be a lot more border crossings if people weren’t prosecuted for trespassing. But he said that these cases make it harder for attorneys to do their jobs because they need landlords to help them and, even if the defendants are found guilty, federal law does not allow them to be deported.

Spiller said that those who are being charged are likely becoming more like the rest of the U.S. community.

“We’re doing what we can, but it’s taking longer than it should,” Spiller said. “No one has been stopped.”

After being freed, Abdoul went to New York City and said he could stay at a shelter there for a month. While he waits for a work pass, he rents a room with a cousin. He said that after that he would get a job and try to go to school until next spring, when an immigration judge would decide what to do with him.

Abdoul said, “When everything is over and my case is safe, I want to go to school because I started and my dream is to be well-educated.”

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