(TEXAS TRIBUNE) – Texas is preparing to release nearly 250 migrants who were arrested under the government. Greg Abbottthe “catch and jail” border security policy and spent over a month in prison without being charged with any crimes.
A state district judge on Tuesday morning granted a motion to release the men on bail without charge after defense lawyers challenged the continued detention of hundreds of migrants, citing generalized violations state law and constitutional due process rights. texan law Demands that defendants be released from jail on free or affordable bail if prosecutors delay cases by failing to press charges quickly. For trespassing, the charge for which the vast majority of migrants have been arrested, this deadline is set at 15 or 30 days, depending on the level of the charge.
Kristin Etter, attorney for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which represents migrants, said during the hearing before State District Judge Roland Andrade that her organization had reached an agreement with the Val Verde County prosecutor to release 75 defendants arrested there who had been imprisoned without charges filed for more than 15 days. Kinney County prosecutors have accepted the release of 168 other defendants who had not been charged for 30 days or more.
“I’m glad you all worked on most of them, and I hope everything gets streamlined a bit more,” Andrade, a Republican, said at the end of the hearing. “It’s a learning experience for everyone, even the court here.
We don’t know what will happen to men when they are released from custody. Federal immigration authorities can choose to detain or deport them, or they can be released in the United States pending their criminal and potential immigration proceedings.
Etter argued that the men should be released from police custody after 15 days, as would apply to typical trespassing cases. When the legal aid group’s petition was filed on September 15, it included 55 men arrested in Val Verde County. At the time of the hearing, 75 men had exceeded the time limit agreed by the prosecutor. Kinney County, however, countered that Abbott’s disaster declaration for the border increases cases to a higher level of misdemeanor, which would give authorities 30 days to press charges. The judge accepted Kinney County’s 30-day limit.
The releases ordered are the latest failure of Abbott’s new state criminal justice system for migrants that has been full of problems since he initiated it in July.
At that time, migrants were wrongly separated from his family during the arrests, the men whose criminal cases were closed were released without any federal or state coordination in border towns without any documents and the judicial system was in violation of state laws in its delays in filing complaints and appointing lawyers.
So far, around 1,000 men, mostly Latin Americans, have been arrested by Texas state police and charged with trespassing on private property on Abbott’s orders. As of Monday, more than 900 men were jailed in two Texas prisons converted to state immigration prisons this summer.
The governor’s new policy aims to stop migrants accused of crossing the border illegally, but since police and state courts have no jurisdiction over federal immigration law, police arrest migrants for state crimes, such as trespassing. Abbott has stepped up its border security efforts this year and blamed President Joe Biden’s immigration policies for an increase in border crossings.
But the influx of arrests has overwhelmed local justice systems in small border areas in Kinney and Val Verde counties, resulting in delays in court records, attorney appointments and even documentation of migrant imprisonment. . All migrants except 11 jailed on Monday were arrested in both counties.
Immediately after the hearing hosted by TRLA on Tuesday, Andrade also heard separate cases involving two people imprisoned in Kinney County who challenged Abbott’s system and the arrests more broadly. In part, lawyers argued that police were erroneously selective in their arrests on trespassing charges by only arresting men who were almost exclusively Hispanic.
Kimble County District Attorney Tonya Ahlschwede, who was acting as Kinney County Deputy Lawyer Brent Smith, initially agreed to release the men on bail, as had been decided in the other cases. But the defense disputed the underlying arrests of their clients, saying the state illegally arrested and detained them.
Ultimately, when the judge chose not to delay the hearing, Ahlschwede offered to drop the criminal cases against the two men. Amanda Woog, executive director of the Texas Fair Defense Project, said after the hearing that the prosecution was not prepared to argue for the arrests and continued detention. She added that the decision should be a call to action for other defense lawyers with migrant clients.
“It shows how much of a sham these arrests and prosecutions are,” she said. “When they are really tested, they fall back.”
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