Saturday, October 16, 2021

Migrants arrested in Texas border action jailed for weeks

27 September (WNN) — Hundreds of migrants arrested under Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s “hold and jail” border security push have sat in jail for weeks, with no charges filed against them, and dozens for more than a month without being appointed lawyers. was kept in jail.

Most of the men are Latino, and many do not speak English. Arrested at the border and jailed hundreds of miles away, they have spent weeks or months without any legal help, few opportunities to talk to their families and are often less likely to find out what happened to them or how long they have been imprisoned.

Citing widespread violations of state laws and constitutional due process rights that have emerged as the local justice system is overwhelmed by the amount of arrests, defense lawyers and immigration advocacy groups are asking courts to release the men. are.

Houston’s defense attorney Amrita Jindal said, “We can’t have a country or a system where people are cornered in this way and this is hidden and hidden, without the oversight and related rights that the Constitution has.” demand.” Justice, was recently assigned to represent dozens of migrants. “The system collapses without due process.”

Abbott’s office on Friday did not respond to questions about judicial delays. He has continued to praise Texas Department of Public Safety officers for making the arrests and has criticized the federal government’s immigration policies, which he blames for the recent surge in border crossings.

Under Texas law, criminal defendants must be assigned an attorney within three days of seeking an attorney. State law also requires that defendants be released from prison if prosecutors delay cases by not filing charges quickly. For trespassing, the time frame for which the vast majority of imprisoned migrants were arrested is set at 15 or 30 days, depending on the customs level.

Both of them have expired, as Abbott, a former Texas Supreme Court judge and state attorney general, pursued his initiative to state police for crimes such as illegally entering the country. Suspected of entering the country for trespassing or human trafficking. Since the effort began in July, nearly 1,000 migrants have been sent to two Texas prisons that have been converted into immigration prisons. Jail officials said around 900 people remained locked up on Friday.

Jindal said his organization was assigned a week and a half ago to represent about 50 of those people, but many were arrested in early August and sat in jail without lawyers for nearly six weeks. After meeting with the men last week, she said most men were unaware they could bond and didn’t know how long they could expect to be locked up. For some, lawyers still didn’t have all their records from the county where they were arrested.

“They didn’t have anyone to communicate with them about their cases or their process,” Jindal said, adding that for most of them it was a first time in the United States. “You are sitting in jail now, and the clerk has no record of you.”

Kinney County, a conservative rural area near Del Rio, has seen the most migrant arrests by far – accounting for more than 80% of all people jailed under Abbott’s initiative on Friday. Jindal said almost all of his new clients, who had been without lawyers for weeks, were arrested in Kinney, and were not unique.

Kinney County Judge Tully Shahan said Thursday that some of the men did not request counsel, and that even if they had, there were no local defense attorneys to take their cases. In a court motion filed this month challenging the new criminal justice system for migrants, Texas defense attorneys and an immigrant rights attorney argued that the arrested migrants were asked by local officials to sign documents, Without knowing what they were signing, because the documents were in English.

Another court petition said that as of mid-September, 300 people were in jail and no charges for trespassing were filed within the 15-day time limit. Most were arrested in Kinney County. The petition was filed by Texas Riogrande Legal Aid, which is defending most of the arrested migrants, and calls for their immediate release on no-cost bond.

As of last week, the county’s misdemeanor prosecutor, Brent Smith, had filed criminal charges against about 50 to 75 men, according to the county clerk. On Friday, about 730 immigrants were arrested in Texas prisons in Kinney County since July.

Smith, who took office in January and has repeated anti-immigration rhetoric in memos and spoken out against migrants for allegedly damaging their property, did not respond to calls or emails for this story.

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In neighboring Val Verde County, home of Del Río, where the migrant arrests began, a handful of court hearings — for about 15 to 20 men — led to the release from prison of defendants who either accepted an offer to plead 15- The sentence of the day, which the migrants had already served, or had their charges dismissed. Those people are sent to federal immigration authorities for either deportation, further detention or release in the United States, where asylum hearings are pending.

Still, about 50 people arrested in Val Verde County this month had been awaiting formal charges for more than 15 days, according to the TRLA petition. Val Verde County Attorney David Martinez said he was not available Friday to speak to the Texas Tribune.

In Kinney County, none of the hundreds of people arrested had a court date set for last week because of delays.

Shahan said Thursday that six court dates are being fixed in the next two months. He explained the delay by saying that his county is small – with a judicial system with only 3,000 residents and few staff. He oversees the county budget and operations as well as misdemeanor cases, and Smith is the only attorney who prosecutes misdemeanors.

“It’s been a huge crowd, and we just had a hitch,” Shahan said. “It’s not an excuse, it’s a real issue with the sheer numbers.”

Defense groups and county officials agree that local systems were unprepared for the large number of arrests they have seen. As arrests began to roll in and legal and logistical problems increasingly emerged, state officials worked behind the scenes to provide judicial aid and pay legal costs. When the state learned that Kinney County had processed more than a hundred men last month without giving them a lawyer, officials turned to a new state system to take initial bookings, as was the case for Val Verde’s arrest. .

But still there was a long delay. To help provide defense services, the Lubbock Private Defenders Office was assigned by the state in July to appoint lawyers for jailed migrants. Office of Executive Director Shannon Evans said they had been awaiting paperwork from Kinney County for weeks in those initial arrests. Once they obtain court records, they have to scrutinize handwritten and disorganized court documents to match the arrests.

In Kinney County there was “a big gap in the communication and the technology part of it”, she said, adding that she believes the issue will be fixed under the new system.

But as time goes on and more cracks come, hundreds of men are left waiting in prison, with recent court filings prompting them to be freed from the new system, defense lawyers claim. is unconstitutional.

A motion filed in state district court this month by Texas defense attorneys and a national immigrant rights attorney said the program resulted in a “separate and unequal criminal legal system for individuals entering the United States illegally. ” “In this ridiculous choice, constitutional rights have been suspended, and due process is non-existent.”

The motion, which is one of the few set for hearing Tuesday in district court covering Val Verde and Kinney counties, for the release of a defendant is based partly on claims that his detention is unconstitutional because he cannot be held without 41 days. was kept for. A lawyer, and the state’s Border Security Initiative only arrest men on trespass charges who are predominantly Hispanic. In another hearing the same day, state District Judge Roland Andrade will consider TRLA’s request for the release of 300 people.

In the backlog and chaos, lawyers fear migrants are getting lost in the system. Jindal said that when he went to jails last week, his lawyers could not find any of his clients. It was assumed that he was able to post bond to be released, but there was no clear communication or documented details, he said, or any indication as to whether the man would be deported while on bond. As for other clients, she said lawyers were hard pressed to find any paperwork explaining when or why they were arrested.

“When it comes to people’s rights, the constitution, the criminal legal system, that’s not really a situation you should create when you fly the plane,” Jindal said.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune. Read the original here.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom that informs and engages Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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