Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s controversial “catch and jail” border crackdown has left hundreds of migrants languishing for months in jail before they can even appear before a judge, according to reports.
The Texas Tribune reported retired judges and prosecutors from across Texas have been enlisted to help process a constant stream of new cases after migrants were arrested for trespass after crossing the border.
However, defense groups claim migrants in rural Kinney County may languish in prison for up to a year – the maximum jail time for a trespassing offense – before they are even able to appear in court virtually or to enter a plea.
The Tribune reports retired judges picked by the state have often agreed at the migrants’ first court hearings to release them from state custody on no-cost bonds as their criminal cases progress. Others who can afford to pay cash bonds are let out earlier. The released men are usually then transferred to federal immigration authorities. They are detained, deported, or released pending asylum hearings.
The Tribune reported a shakeup in Kinney County, which accounts for many of the trespassing arrests threatens even longer detentions. Migrants who cannot afford to post a cash bond could languish in jail indefinitely unless they plead guilty at an initial hearing.
The Tribune reported Kinney County Judge Tully Shahan canceled hearings for 20 men recently. He also dismissed the three retired judges who had been hearing the majority of trespassing cases in his county, threatening longer delays.
Shahan handpicked five county judges to help him with the large caseload from Abbott’s Operation Lone Star arrests.
The Tribune noted Shahan has not allowed migrants to be released on no-cost bonds after not guilty pleas in his court. Instead, they remain locked up in state prisons pending future court proceedings or a trial date.
Defense lawyers argue Shahan is trying to remove the current judges because he disapproves of them releasing migrants after months in prison.
“This is clearly retaliation against the judges who have been releasing hundreds of people and dismissing deficient cases under Operation Lone Star and is a threat to the rule of law,” Amanda Woog, executive director of the Texas Fair Defense Project, told the Tribune.
Operation Lone Star was launched in May 2021 to shore up border security. It integrates DPS with the Texas National Guard and deploys air, ground, marine, and tactical border security assets to “deny Mexican Cartels and other smugglers the ability to move drugs and people into Texas,” according to the Governor’s office,
The initiative has been criticized by opponents. Recently, 11 men were released following claims they were marched to a ranch by border guards and arrested for trespassing.
The notion of migrants languishing for months or even years on trespassing charges is highly disturbing. As Dallas-based defense lawyers, we do everything in our power to keep defendants out of jails and prisons. Please contact us at (214) 720-9552.