Wagswoofs – Abdoul, a 32-year-old from West Africa, took an unexpected detour before settling in New York City, like thousands of other migrants this year. He spent weeks in a remote Texas jail on local trespassing charges after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I spent countless sleepless hours, sitting on the floor,” shared Abdoul, a political activist who escaped from Mauritania due to the fear of persecution. He requested to keep his last name anonymous, concerned that it might hinder his asylum application.”
Starting in March, Texas will implement a new law that grants police the power to arrest migrants who enter the state illegally. Additionally, local judges will have the authority to order these individuals to leave the country. This new law follows a smaller-scale operation implemented two years ago, which aimed to arrest migrants for trespassing. However, there is little evidence to suggest that this operation effectively curbed illegal crossings.
The findings raise concerns about the effectiveness of arrests in deterring immigration, especially as Texas prepares to grant police expanded authority to apprehend migrants for illegal entry. Advocacy groups have already filed lawsuits against the new law enacted by Republican Governor Greg Abbott, arguing that it exceeds constitutional boundaries and infringes upon the federal government’s jurisdiction over immigration.
Since 2021, Texas authorities have apprehended close to 10,000 migrants on misdemeanor trespassing charges as part of a “arrest and jail” operation initiated by Governor Abbott. Under this operation, border landowners enter into agreements with the state, granting permission for law enforcement to arrest migrants who enter the U.S. through their properties.
Constitutional challenges have been raised in courts regarding the arrests, with claims of violations of due process. Additionally, a landowner has requested officials to cease the arrests for trespassing on their property, arguing that authorities never obtained permission in the first place.
According to Abbott, the arrests made for trespassing were expected to yield fast outcomes. In an interview with Fox News in July 2021, during a period when Texas-Mexico border crossings hit 1.2 million for the fiscal year, Abbott confidently stated, “Once people become aware of this, they will cease to cross the Texas border.”
The number has increased even further in the past fiscal year, surpassing 1.5 million.
Sheriff Tom Schmerber of Maverick County noted that there continues to be a steady flow of individuals crossing the border. In July, Abdoul, for instance, was apprehended soon after crossing the border.
According to Abbott, Texas is considering the possibility of gradually eliminating trespassing arrests in favor of enforcing illegal entry charges, which can be applied throughout the state, even far away from the border.
The arrests for trespassing have played a crucial role in Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, a border mission that has challenged the federal government’s immigration authority and has cost nearly $10 billion. In addition to the arrests, Abbott has transported around 80,000 migrants to Democratic-led cities via buses, fortified the border with razor wire, and implemented buoy barriers on the Rio Grande. As a further step in his busing operation, Abbott recently sent a group of 120 migrants to Chicago.
In Maverick County, the mission is evident as numerous arrests have occurred. Patrol cars are strategically positioned every few miles along the two-lane roads that lead to the border city of Eagle Pass. Along the Rio Grande, Texas officials collaborate with state troopers from Florida, one of several Republican-led states that have deployed National Guard members and law enforcement personnel to the border.
Abdoul found himself in a predicament when he was arrested at Shelby Park, a scenic spot nestled along the river with a convenient boat ramp. It was on the Fourth of July that Abdoul first set foot on American soil, only to be approached by officers who promptly detained him after a brief round of questioning.
According to him, he experienced extreme discomfort during his time in jail due to the small food portions provided to him. The conditions were so unbearable that he felt compelled to say anything in order to secure his release. Ultimately, he decided to plead guilty to the charge of trespassing, which has a maximum jail sentence of one year.
It is unclear what happened to those who were arrested on the border for trespassing in terms of whether they are still in the U.S., were deported, were granted the opportunity to seek asylum, or had their cases dismissed. According to Kristen Etter, an attorney from a legal organization that has represented over 3,000 migrants facing trespassing charges, the majority of their clients were permitted to stay and pursue asylum.
According to her, numerous migrants approach law enforcement at the border with the intention of surrendering.
According to her, instead of discouraging people, it is actually drawing more individuals in.
The Texas Department of Public Safety is taking charge of the arrests for trespassing. According to spokesperson Ericka Miller, the state’s border operation has led to over 37,000 criminal arrests in total. She emphasized that officers have successfully intercepted gang members, human traffickers, sex offenders, and various other individuals attempting to enter the country.
In an email, Miller emphasized the significance of their presence, stating that without them, all of the illegal crossings would have likely gone unnoticed. He also highlighted the state of Texas’ commitment to sending a clear message to those contemplating crossing into the country illegally: reconsider your actions.
In July, there was a surge in migrant crossings in Eagle Pass, prompting Mayor Rolando Salinas to sign a blanket trespassing charge affidavit. This allowed arrests to be made on park grounds, including cases like Abdoul’s. However, due to local backlash, Salinas rescinded the affidavit briefly before signing it again weeks later. Despite the controversy, Salinas stands by the operation, stating that it has brought much-needed law enforcement personnel to the city.
Salinas expressed concern about the ability of their force to maintain peace in Eagle Pass with a large influx of 10-15,000 people.
State Representative David Spiller, the author of the new arrest law signed by Governor Abbott earlier this month, is of the opinion that border crossings would see a significant increase if trespassing prosecutions were not pursued. However, he acknowledges that these cases place an additional burden on prosecutors, as they require cooperation from landowners. Furthermore, even if defendants are convicted, the offense does not warrant deportation under federal law.
“We are making efforts to mitigate the situation, but we are merely slowing down the process,” Spiller expressed. “We haven’t been able to prevent anyone from progressing.”
Abdoul, upon his release, made his way to New York City where he found temporary accommodation at a shelter for a month. Currently, he resides with a cousin and is eagerly awaiting his work permit. Once he receives it, Abdoul plans to secure a job and pursue his education while he awaits a decision from an immigration judge concerning his future in the coming spring.
Abdoul expressed his desire to pursue education once his case is settled and guaranteed. He emphasized the importance of receiving a good education as it is his dream.