Converted Texas Prison Welcomes First Immigrant Detainees As Abbott’s Border Security Efforts Intensify | Texas

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A Texas prison has officially started holding immigrants accused of state crimes after allegedly crossing the US-Mexico border illegally as part of Governor Greg Abbott’s increased border security efforts.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said Wednesday that Val Verde County, home to Del Rio, on Tuesday sent three people arrested in connection with Abbott’s border initiative to the Briscoe unit in Dilley, a small town between San Antonio and Laredo. The number of detainees is expected to increase rapidly; the Val Verde County District Attorney predicted about 50 immigrant arrests per day, rising to as many as 200 per day in August.

The Val Verde County Sheriff’s Office said the Briscoe inmates were arrested on criminal trespassing charges. County officials have previously said state police will begin arresting immigrants crossing the border, primarily for trespassing and criminal mischief – two offenses that can result in up to a year in prison. This is a new approach ordered by Abbott to allow state and local law enforcement officers to arrest immigrants for crimes committed by the state, as they have no jurisdictional power to arrest an person charged with the federal crime of illegally crossing the border.

“If you cross the river and almost everyone there has posted ‘No Trespassing’ signs, so once you cross and enter the property you will be picked up and taken to jail for trespassing.” said Val Verde County Judge Lewis Owens. Last week.

The judge, a Democrat, said border patrol agents apprehended more than 149,000 immigrants in the Del Rio area alone during this exercise, the second after the Rio Grande Valley, according to federal statistics. Hundreds more escape detection by crossing further from major entry points, often crossing private land, scaring landowners unaccustomed to such levels of migration, Owens said.

As part of Abbott’s border initiative, dubbed Operation Lone Star, the governor sent about 1,000 officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety – about a quarter of the state’s police force – to the counties at or near the border. After declaring that the increase in illegal immigration was catastrophic in May, the governor warned in June that his police force would begin making arrests on state charge and ordered the prison system to open a space for imprisoned immigrants.

But Abbott’s initiative to convert Briscoe prison to prison proved controversial. After moving all state prisoners out of the unit in June, nearly 150 prison guards were left to watch an empty unit for more than a month as authorities scrambled to determine what changes were needed to house immigrant inmates. Meanwhile, the rest of the prison system remained dangerously understaffed. The prison was also linked to Abbott’s border security initiative shortly after he and other heads of state decided to siphon off $ 250 million – at least temporarily – from the prison department to go rather towards the construction of a border wall.

It is still unclear whether Briscoe Prison now meets the minimum standards for a Texas prison, which often does not match the way state prisons are run because they house different populations. While Texas prisons house people convicted of state crimes, Texas prisons primarily hold people accused but not convicted of crimes, including minor offenses.

In a statement on Wednesday, TDCJ officials said the agency was working with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to convert the prison into a suitable prison. For example, prison officers were temporarily allowed as jailers, additional medical staff and guards were added, and the unit installed temporary air conditioning in living areas.

Texas County jails need to be cooled to 85 degrees or less, while most Texas jails – including Briscoe – noticeably lack air conditioning in living areas. TDCJ spokesman Robert Hurst said air conditioning is now sent into the building through ducts and powered by portable generators.

“Ensuring public safety is part of the core mission of the TDCJ,” Bryan Collier, executive director of prisons, said in the statement. “The agency will continue to work with stakeholders and state leaders to help counties meet this important challenge.”

Brandon Wood, executive director of the Prison Standards Commission, said a building in the Briscoe unit has so far been cleared to house inmates and is holding all three people incarcerated so far. The other buildings, he said, will be allowed to imprison people after unspecified issues are resolved.

In addition to meeting housing standards in Briscoe, Val Verde County District Attorney David Martinez this week said space and resources under Abbott’s directive would be an issue. His office has two prosecutors, a third coming in two weeks, and the local jail was full in early July, the sheriff told county commissioners.

Martinez said arrested immigrants would be taken to a tent-like structure outside of Del Rio jail to be processed before going to Briscoe within 24 hours. He said he would offer most of those arrested for misdemeanors a time served once they clear the criminal justice system, which he said would take around 10 days and then turned over to Immigration. and Customs Enforcement, where many would likely be quickly deported.

“It’s going to be very rewarding for everyone in the process,” he said. “If we start seeing over 50 arrests a day, we could easily be consumed by this. “


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