Governor Gregg Abbott’s heightened border security measures seem to be yielding positive results as three undocumented immigrants become the first batch of illegal “aliens” to be brought to a Texas prison facility for entering the United States via the backdoor.
According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Val Verde County, home to Del Rio, sent three people arrested under Abbott’s border initiative Tuesday to the Briscoe Unit in Dilley, a small town between San Antonio and Laredo.
Officials said that the number of detainees is expected to climb rapidly. The Val Verde County hinted at an intensified effort under the Governor’s border initiative dubbed as “Operation Lone Star,” adding that the current statistics showing 50 arrests per day may even go as high as 200 busts on a daily basis by next month.
According to the Val Verde County sheriff’s office, those arrested and brought to Briscoe Uni are facing charges arising from criminal trespassing.
Prior to the arrest and detention of the three illegal immigrants, the county officials issued a stern warning on individuals who would try to cross the border.
Interestingly, the cases [trespassing and criminal mischief] filed against the arrested persons may only be able to keep them behind bars for a maximum of one year as the local law enforcement units could only do as much since they have no jurisdictional power to arrest someone accused of the federal crime of crossing the border illegally.
“If you cross the river, and almost everyone down there has posted ‘no trespassing’ signs, so once you cross and get on the property, you will be picked up and taken to jail for trespassing,” Val Verde County Judge Lewis Owens, a Democrat, had said earlier.
Owens claimed that for this year alone, the Border Patrol agents have so far arrested over 149,000 immigrants in the Del Rio sector alone. The figure is deemed as 2nd highest as per federal statistics.
However, Owens said that there are still others who have managed to sneak into the U.S. by jumping into private lands, owners of whom are threatened with physical harm should they report to the authorities their entry.
Under Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, around 1,000 operatives from the Texas Department of Public Safety have been deployed and stationed in strategic areas near the US border.
The deployment of a thousand border officers came as an offshoot of the Governor’s warning last June that he’d be ordering the police to start arresting illegal immigrants whose numbers have reportedly bloated amid unchecked borders.
However, with just local law enforcers deployed at the US border, Val Verde County could only file minor misdemeanor cases against arrested persons and not state charges, as Abbott earlier wanted.
The governor also previously ordered the prison system to make some room for jail immigrants — a directive that saw the prison officials scampering for ways to accommodate new detainees amid inadequate personnel to guard.
Responding to Briscoe’s Unit jail officials’ concerns, Abbott ordered the transfer of all state prisoners out of the unit in June, which left 150 prison guards watching over an empty detention facility.
But even after the state addressed space concerns of the jail facility, Briscoe Unit prison officials wonder where to draw funds to operate their facility following the state’s decision to realign $250 million from the prison department to give way for the construction of border walls.
As to whether the Briscoe prison now meets the minimum standards for a Texas jail, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said that they are working with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement for the conversion of the Brisco Unit into an appropriate jail, which is far from what Briscoe Unit is.
Asked to elaborate on what an “appropriate jail facility” should be, the TDCJ hinted at a prison facility manned by a fleet of licensed jail officers, adequate medical staff, and humane living quarters and housing areas.
Briscoe Unit is supposedly just a holding area, where detainees are facing criminal charges but not yet convicted.
Texas county jails are required to be cooled at or below 85 degrees, while most Texas prisons — including Briscoe — notoriously lack air conditioning in housing areas. TDCJ spokesperson Robert Hurst said that air conditioning is now being sent into the building through ducts and powered by portable generators.
“Providing public safety is part of the core mission of the TDCJ. The agency will continue to work with stakeholders and state leadership to assist counties as they deal with this significant challenge,” Bryan Collier, the prisons’ executive director, said in the statement.