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Texas criminally charges more than 200 migrants involved in alleged 'riot' at the border

FILE PHOTO: A Texas National Guard Soldier watches for migrants looking to cross the Rio Grande in El Paso behind miles of laid out concertina wire.
Aaron Montes
FILE PHOTO: A Texas National Guard Soldier watches for migrants looking to cross the Rio Grande in El Paso behind miles of laid out concertina wire.

EL PASO — The state of Texas charged 214 migrants with “riot participation” for their involvement in tearing down a temporary chain link fence and pushing past Texas National Guard troops in March.

Magistrate Judge Beto Acosta ordered about 150 of the people released from state custody on Sunday after he said the District Attorney’s Office did not meet a deadline to argue why the migrants should be held longer. According to the judge the migrants were entitled to individual custody hearings 48 hours after their charges were filed as required by law.

Prosecutors requested the hearings to be postponed until the following week because of the Easter holiday. El Paso County District Attorney Bill Hicks said on Facebook no other judges in Texas border counties have granted bonds to any groups of migrants arrested under Operation Lone Star, Texas' border security initiative.

Hicks said his staff did not anticipate Acosta would issue a release order Sunday.

“The defendants in the riot cases had already had a probable cause finding that justified their detention (time in jail) and bonds had been set in each case by independent magistrates,” Hicks said on Facebook. “I want to emphasize that the state of Texas was in fact prepared to address each and every case on a case by case basis at a bond hearing (Sunday) and it is patently untrue to say that the District Attorney’s Office was unprepared for the hearings.”

But Kelli Childress El Paso County’s Chief Public Defender told KTEP the state does not have the necessary evidence to prove all the people charged were involved and committed a crime.

“Holding my clients on bond to answer to an offense is a restriction on their liberty that must be based on probable cause,” Childress said. “My clients are entitled to a dismissal of these allegations, and I intend to immediately pursue that.”

The Texas Department of Public Safety pursued the charges against the migrants last week. DPS arrests were made on Thursday, Friday and Saturday while they were in federal custody according to the county records. Riot participation charges are punishable by up to 180 days in jail, a fine of up to $2,000 or both.

Junior Eravisto Benitez, 21, from Honduras faces the most serious charge of assault of a public servant for allegedly hitting a National Guard Soldier, criminal mischief, riot participation and interfering with public duties. His combined bonds have been set at $47,000.

Seven of the hundreds of migrants taken into custody by Border Patrol after the incident at the fence have been indicted on state felony charges.

Hearings for 35 people continued on Monday under Magistrate Judge Antonio Aun, who did not want to hear arguments about probable cause.

Childress told KTEP she waived her clients’ right to a bond hearing to ensure they stayed at the county jail and were not be transferred to a less accessible detention facility.

“Approximately 150 people were released yesterday without the court even calling their matters for hearing or allowing me an opportunity to speak on their behalf,” she said. “None of them have actually been released from custody, they have only been removed to an unknown location where I am less able to communicate with and protect them.”

As part of the process, a majority of migrants are in Immigration Customs and Enforcement or ICE custody. Depending on the charges they face in court, they will face removal proceedings after their state cases are finished.

"ERO will lodge an immigration detainer, and once the individual has gone through the judicial process and completed a sentence, or is otherwise released from state or local custody, that individual will be returned to the custody of ERO to await a final immigration status determination. Custody status will continue to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis as the individuals go through the immigration process," a statement form ICE said.

Childress of the public defenders office said 39 of the migrants are at the county detention facility on Tuesday.
Copyright 2024 KTEP. To see more, visit KTEP.

Aaron J. Montes