EAGLE PASS, Texas (AP) — Before moving to New York as thousands of other migrants This year, Abdoul, a 32-year-old from West Africa, took an unexpected detour: weeks spent in a remote Texas prison for local trespassing after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border .
“I spent many hours without sleeping, sitting on the ground,” said Abdoul, a political activist who fled Mauritania, fearing persecution. He spoke on the condition that his last name not be published, for fear of jeopardizing his asylum application.
Starting in March, Texas will allow police stop migrants who enter the state illegally and give local judges the power to order them to leave the country. The new law comes two years after Texas launched a smaller-scale operation aimed at arresting migrants for trespassing. But even if this operation also aimed to stem illegal crossings, there is no indication that it succeeded.
The findings raise questions about the impact of the arrests on deterring immigration, as Texas prepares to give police even broader powers to apprehend migrants accused of illegal entry. Civil rights organizations I have already filed a lawsuit to stop the new law signed by Republican Governor Greg Abbott, calling it an unconstitutional overreach that encroaches on the US government’s immigration authority.
Since 2021, Texas authorities have arrested nearly 10,000 migrants on trespassing charges in what Abbott called an “arrest and jail” operation: border landowners cut deals with The state allows trespassing arrests, paving the way for law enforcement to apprehend migrants entering the country. United States through these properties.
The arrests led to constitutional challenges in court, including allegations of due process violations. Most recently, a landowner asked authorities to stop arrests for trespassing on his property, saying authorities never had permission in the first place.
Abbott predicted that trespassing arrests would produce quick results. “When people start learning about this, they will stop crossing the Texas border,” he told Fox News in July 2021, when the number of Texas-Mexico border crossings reached 1.2 million during this financial year.
This number increased further in the last financial year, surpassing 1.5 million.
“They keep coming through here,” said Sheriff Tom Schmerber of Maverick County, where Abdoul crossed the border and was quickly arrested in July.
Abbott suggested this month that Texas could soon phase out trespassing arrests as it moves forward with illegal entry charges. which can be applied almost anywhere in the stateincluding hundreds of kilometers from the border.
The trespassing arrests were the cornerstone of Abbott’s nearly $10 billion border mission, known as Operation Lone Star who has tested the authority of the federal government on immigration. Abbott also sent about 80,000 migrants on buses to Democratic-run cities, hung barbed wire on the border and buoy barriers installed on the Rio Grande. Last week, Abbott sent a flight of 120 migrants to Chicago in an escalation of its bus operation.
The mission is visible in Maverick County, where numerous arrests have taken place. Patrol cars are parked every few miles along the two-lane roads leading to the border town of Eagle Pass. Along the Rio Grande, state troopers from Florida, one of several Republican-led states that have sent National Guard and law enforcement personnel to the border, work in tandem with Texas officials.
Abdoul was arrested in the city’s Shelby Park, a small patch of greenery along the river with a ramp for boaters. It was July 4 when Abdoul first set foot on American soil. The police officers who were nearby asked him a few questions and quickly took him into custody.
He said he was given small portions of food in prison and was so unhappy that he would say anything to get out. He pleaded guilty to trespassing, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison.
It is unclear how many people arrested at the border for trespassing remain in the United States, have been deported, have been allowed to stay to seek asylum or have had their cases rejected. But Kristen Etter, an attorney who said her legal organization has represented more than 3,000 migrants on trespassing charges, said the majority of their clients have been allowed to stay and seek asylum.
She explained that many migrants seek out law enforcement at the border because they want to surrender.
“On the contrary, rather than having a deterrent effect, it attracts more people,” she said.
The trespassing arrests are being conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety, which said the state’s border operations have resulted in more than 37,000 criminal arrests in total. Spokeswoman Ericka Miller said agents have stopped gang members, human traffickers, sex offenders and others from entering the country.
“If we hadn’t been there, all of this probably would have entered the country unimpeded,” Miller said in an email. “The State of Texas is working to send a message to those considering entering the country illegally to think again. »
Rolando Salinas, Eagle Pass Mayor, signed a blanket trespassing affidavit to allow arrests like Abdul’s in the park during a surge in migrant crossings in July. Following local backlash, he rescinded the affidavit before signing it again weeks later. Ultimately, Salinas said, he supports the operation because it brought law enforcement personnel to the city.
“Our force is not big enough to keep the peace in Eagle Pass if we have 10 to 15,000 people passing through,” Salinas said.
State Rep. David Spiller, author of the new arrest law signed by Abbott this month, said he believes the number of border crossings would be much higher without trespassing charges. But he said such cases add to the workload of prosecutors, depend on the cooperation of landowners and that even if the defendants are convicted, the offense is not deportable under federal law.
Those charged, Spiller said, are likely in the process of assimilating into the American population.
“We’re doing what we can, but we’re just slowing this process down,” Spiller said. “We didn’t arrest anyone.”
Abdoul traveled to New York after his release, where he said he was allowed to stay in a shelter for a month. He is now renting a room with a cousin and waiting for a work permit. Then, he said, he will find a job and try to go to school until an immigration judge decides his future next spring.
“When everything is over and my case is guaranteed, I want to go to school because I started school and my dream is to be well educated,” Abdoul said.
___ Associated Press video journalist Ted Shaffrey reported from New York.
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