AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Texas begins arresting migrants for trespassing along the US-Mexico border as part of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s actions he says are needed to slow the number of border crossings, imprisoning at least 10 people so away with more on the way, authorities said Thursday.
The arrests set in motion plans Abbott first announced in June, when he also said Texas would continue to build former President Donald Trump’s border wall and called on other governors to deploy members of the police and the National Guard to the southern border.
The detainees are being held in what was an empty state prison in Dilley, Texas, about 160.93 kilometers north of the border town of Laredo, said Robert Hurst, spokesperson for the Department of Criminal Justice of the United States. Texas. He said the converted facility will be able to accommodate more than 950 people.
All those arrested so far have been single adult men, according to Val Verde County Prosecutor David Martinez, who said he was told last week that the number of migrant arrests could reach 100 or 200 per day . So many, he said, “would overwhelm not only my office, but our entire system pretty quickly.”
Most of the land along the southern Texas border is private, but Martinez said he understands state soldiers will not stop family units. Last week, U.S. officials reported meeting with 55,805 family members with children in June, a 25% increase from the previous month. This figure is still well below the peak of 88,587 reached in May 2019.
“If John Doe is caught on my property and has his wife and children with him, the chances are good that he will not be arrested,” Martinez said. “This is what was represented to me.”
A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety did not immediately return a message on Thursday.
The county of Val Verde, which has a population of around 50,000, has become the backdrop to Abbott’s criticism of President Joe Biden over the border, as the two-term governor, who is due for re-election in 2022, sought to take on Trump’s immigration role. He returned to the county last weekend with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other officials, including Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, who tweeted this week that she had tested positive for COVID-19.
“The state prison commission has found a way to jail many more people currently in jail,” Abbott said during his visit on Saturday.
But the larger Texas counties along the southern border, where the crossings are typically the highest, have rejected Abbott’s offer to strengthen enforcement and accept disaster declarations, which governors did not. generally grant only during events such as hurricanes or forest fires.
Migrants arrested by state soldiers for trespassing began reporting to the old prison on Tuesday. Prison officials said in a statement that preparations for the facility included temporary air conditioning – which many Texas prisons do not have in living areas – and training and licensing of jailers.
Since first announcing earlier this summer that Texas would begin charging migrants with state crimes, Abbott has said law enforcement will not be involved in the ‘capture and release’ and said those arrested will spend time behind bars. But Martinez said he would treat cases the same as usual, which usually means offering time served.
“My office is working very hard to try to minimize the time they have to spend in this prison,” he said.