Hispanic Democrats are calling on the Biden administration to investigate Texas over a series of alleged human rights violations stemming from local authorities arresting migrant men on accusations of criminal trespassing.
In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) asked the feds to take action to stop the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) from “intentionally separating migrant families.”
The Hill has reached out to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for comment.
According to the CHC members, DPS’s policy of arresting certain migrants for criminal trespassing — a practice that aims to inject local criminal consequences for crossing the U.S.-Mexico border — has resulted in the separation of at least 26 families.
The lawmakers said they confirmed the practice in a recent CHC tour of the border.
The letter, first reported by PBS NewsHour, alleges that the arrests of migrant men are followed by a series of human rights violations including lengthy pretrial detention and faulty legal advice.
“For example, CHC members learned, that migrants were being told that they could either wait 6-9 months in jail or, if they want to be reunited with their families, they could plead guilty and get out on bond automatically,” wrote the lawmakers, noting that pretrial detention for class B misdemeanors in Texas usually lasts one to three days.
A guilty plea for a crime can bar an individual from receiving asylum in the United States if the crime is not properly disclosed during the application process, and if an individual is convicted of two misdemeanors, it can render them ineligible for other immigration benefits, such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
“Since most of these individuals have little to no legal support, they do not understand what they are admitting guilt to or how it will affect their immigration status,” wrote the lawmakers.
The lack of legal representation under DPS custody is aggravating representation issues for asylum seekers, who often have trouble finding affordable or pro bono legal services.
The lawmakers called specifically on Mayorkas to investigate how DPS detainees are being transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a federal agency under his purview.
“After the fathers are incarcerated in state or local facilities, they are then transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, with no reference to the families they have been separated from and placed in expedited removal,” they wrote.
“With little to no communication, mothers and children are traumatized and left wondering what happened to their loved ones.”
The allegations of human rights violations are compounding a growing rift between the Abbott and Biden administrations, as Texas turns to ever-intensifying methods to put its mark on border security.
The Biden administration has filed lawsuits against Texas over the installation of buoys in sections of the Rio Grande, meant to either discourage or physically prevent migrants from reaching dry land in Texas.
Though the lawmakers commended that lawsuit, they raised concerns over other practices conducted by Texas as part of Operation Lone Star, Abbott’s signature border program.
Operation Lone Star has drawn heavy criticism both from a legal perspective, questioning whether Texas has stepped into federal jurisdiction on immigration and border issues, and from a humanitarian perspective.
“Governor Abbott has been able to implement Operation Lone Star and act with impunity for more than two years. We urgently call on the Administration to consider what further decisive action they can take to address this alarming situation,” wrote the lawmakers.