Some Texas counties are refusing to take part in Gov. Greg Abbott's initiative to arrest and jail migrants accused of violating state laws, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Counties with the most illegal traffic have declined to participate in the state’s plans, with state troopers instead being dispatched into smaller communities upriver on the Rio Grande, WSJ reported.
"We concluded we could not in good faith tell the people of our counties there is an emergency when there’s not an emergency," Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, oversees the county’s disaster response, told WSJ.
Hundreds of law-enforcement officers have been sent to the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks to begin arrests. On Tuesday, the first three migrants arrested under Abbott’s order were sent to a state prison on state charges, according to Val Verde County Judge Lewis Owens, whose duties are akin to a mayor.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics show there has been an historic increase in illegal crossings along some stretches of the border.
Abbott last month declared the state’s border situation a disaster, a classification typically used for events such as hurricanes. He said Texas state troopers would begin arresting immigrants for violating valid state laws, such as trespassing.
Civil-rights groups have questioned Abbott’s order, saying states cannot legally enforce federal immigration law.
"Our fellow Texans and our fellow Americans are being threatened every day," Abbott, R-Texas, said during a news conference on the border last month with former President Donald Trump.
"I’m talking to people in this region. Their lives and their properties and their families are being overrun."
Texas counties, however, are divided over whether to accept Abbott’s disaster designation and state troopers.
Abbott's initial disaster order on May 31 included all Texas border counties, and it allowed the state to transfer $250 million in funding. The governor updated the order on June 28 to include only those counties willing to declare a disaster themselves and work with the state in arresting migrants for trespassing.
The most populous border regions, including El Paso, Laredo, and the whole Rio Grande Valley dropped out. More remote western border regions and nonborder counties are participating.
Officials in several border counties that opted out of the disaster declaration told WSJ one issue was whether such arrests would be legal.
The Rio Grande Valley, which according to CBP is the busiest immigration sector in the country, isn’t participating in the state disaster order.
Officials there say the impact of illegal border crossings is similar to previous upswings — most recently in 2019, 2018, and 2014 — and the increased immigration hasn’t affected their budget or crime numbers.
Arrests have begun in the Del Rio Region, 300 miles northwest of the Rio Grande Valley. Owens, whose county includes Del Rio, told WSJ that he had heard complaints from landowners, and said nonprofit groups were running out of space to shelter asylum seekers.
A new processing center is in place near the county jail, with state troopers and National Guardsmen making a large presence in the area.
The number of border apprehensions this year in the Del Rio region are less than half of those made in the valley. However, Del Rio is seeing its most border crossings since 2000.
The American Civil Liberties Union informed all counties covered by the disaster order that it would be illegal for local jurisdictions to arrest people based on their immigration status.
The WSJ said district attorneys and county lawyers in border counties said arrests of trespassing migrants must be based on complaints from landowners and must be arraigned by local judges and justices of the peace.
Usually, such situations result in the arrestee being released on a personal-recognizance bond. To do otherwise, lawyers told WSJ, would have to change the way bonds are handled, these lawyers said.
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