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Texas Arrested Almost 6,000 Migrants At The Border Since July On Gov. Abbott’s New Trespassing Charge

Migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. wait to be processed under the International Bridge in Del Rio
Migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. walk in the Rio Grande river near the International Bridge between Mexico and the U.S., as they wait to be processed, in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, September 16, 2021. According to officials, some migrants cross back and forth into Mexico to buy food and supplies. REUTERS/Go Nakamura

You can read this story in Spanish by clicking here.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has arrested almost 6,000 migrants for criminal trespassing since late July.

State authorities can not arrest people on immigration charges because that is under the purview of the federal government. But earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered DPS to begin arresting migrants who cross the Rio Grande on state charges of trespassing in an attempt to deter them from crossing.

This is part of a growing law enforcement campaign in the border region called Operation Lone Star.

“We have an infrastructure in place. We're arresting 20 to 30 to 40 a day. There is no way a local county jail can handle that,” said Victor Escalon, the DPS South Texas Regional Director at a press event.

The governor cleared Dolph Briscoe Unit, a state prison in Dilley, to serve as a jail for those detained on criminal trespassing charges. The jail can hold approximately 1,000 people, but the arrests have maxed out capacity at the location. State Troopers are now pushing migrants to Segovia Unit state prison in Hidalgo County.

Escalon said Thursday that DPS and other state agencies were going to assist in closing the Del Rio Port of Entry, where there’s been a recent influx of migrants from Haiti.

Migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. wait to be processed under the International Bridge in Del Rio
Migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. rest near the International Bridge between Mexico and the U.S. as they wait to be processed, in Del Rio, Texas, U.S., September 16, 2021. REUTERS/Go Nakamura

“Before I came here today, my last instructions are we're going to shut down all the POEs in Del Rio. That is the plan as of now,” he said.

Abbott later released a statement that CBP had asked the state to help shut down six ports of entry but the Biden administration had reversed the decision. However, according to the Texas Tribune, a CBP spokesperson denied they ever gave such an order.

Nonetheless, Abbott announced that he deployed state troopers and the Texas National Guard to six ports of entry to “maintain their presence at and around ports of entry to deter crossings".

Operation Lone Star has resulted in an increase of law enforcement presence in border communities, which civil rights activists fear could lead to over-policing of local residents.

According to KRGV, there’s been an increase in citations for minor charges among drivers in Starr County.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Border and Immigration News Desk, including the Catena Foundation and Texas Mutual Insurance Company.

State officials say they’ve referred more than 66,000 migrants to U.S. Customers and Border Protection since March.

CBP said there were more than 208,000 migrant crossings in August, with one-quarter of those people having attempted to cross at least once before in the past year.

CBP officials attribute the repeat crossings to Title 42, a seldom-used part of U.S. Code that deals with public health. The Trump administration enacted Title 42 to expel migrants under the pretext of stopping the spread of COVID-19. Former President Donald Trump implemented the measure at the start of the pandemic and President Biden has continued it.

But on Thursday — in a major victory for civil rights organizations — U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan found that the Title 42 policy does not authorize the expulsion of migrant families or for the government to deny them the opportunity to seek asylum. The judge granted a preliminary injunction that goes into effect in 14 days.

Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court issued an order last month requiring the Biden administration to reinstate the controversial Trump policy that forced asylum seekers to wait in dangerous conditions in Mexico for their day in court.

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Carolina Cuellar reports for Texas Public Radio from the city of McAllen where she covers business and border issues. Her position is made possible by Report For America — a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
As TPR's news director, Katz leads the organization’s news and journalism efforts, overseeing the newsroom’s day-to-day management and the development of a strategic vision for the news division. He also serves on the organization’s executive leadership team.
Pablo De La Rosa is a Northern Tamaulipas-Rio Grande Valley native where he works as a writer and multimedia producer of stories from the Texas-Mexico border region.