Arrested Migrants In Texas Imprisoned For Months With No Charges And Left Without Lawyers

Hundreds of migrants who have been arrested under Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s “catch and jail” border security push have been imprisoned for weeks with no charges filed against them while dozens of migrants are imprisoned for over a month and left without lawyers to help them, report say.

Most of the imprisoned migrants are Latino men who are non-English speakers. They have been imprisoned hundreds of miles away after being arrested on the border and have spent months without legal help. They aren’t also given much chance to talk to their families and has no idea what’s happening to them or when will they be set free, Click 2 Houston reported.

Defense Attorneys, Immigrant Advocacy Groups Are Asking Court To Free Them

Defense attorneys and groups supporting immigrants are asking the court to release the imprisoned men stating the extensive violation of state laws and constitutional due process rights that proliferated as the state continues to arrest hundreds of migrants.

“We can’t have a country or a system where people are being rounded up like this and sort of tucked away and hidden without the oversight and respective rights that the Constitution demands,” said Amrutha Jindal, a Houston defense attorney. “The system crumbles without due process.”

When asked regarding the judicial delays, Gov. Abbott’s office did not respond. He has also continued to applaud Texas Department of Public Safety officers for the arrests they have made. Abbott also criticized the immigration policies of the federal government and blames them for the recent rise in border crossings.

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Credits: houstonpublicmedia.org

Texas Law states Defendants Must Be Given Attorneys

Texas law states that when defendants asked for an attorney to represent them, they must be given one within three days after their request. The state statute also mandates that all defendants must be released from prison if prosecutors delay their cases by not filing charges immediately.

For most of the migrants who are currently imprisoned, they were arrested for trespassing. The deadline for trespassing is set t 15 or 30 days, varying on the charge level.

Both of the deadlines have already passed and Abbott still continues his initiatives for the Texas police to arrest migrants who are suspected of entering the country illegally for state crimes like trespassing or human smuggling.

900 Migrants Remain Imprisoned

The “catch and jail” policy started in July and about 1,000 migrants were brought to two Texas prisons that were converted to immigration jails. And as of Friday, at least 900 migrants are still imprisoned according to prison officials.

Jindal said that her organization, Restoring Justice, was asked to represent almost 50 of the arrested men a week and a half ago but most of them had been arrested and imprisoned in August and have been locked up without attorneys for nearly six weeks.

Jindal met with the men last week and according to her, most of them were not aware if they could bond out. They are also unaware of how long they would be imprisoned. Some don’t even have their records from where they were arrested.

“They didn’t have anyone communicating to them about their cases or their process,” Jindal said. “You’re just sitting in jail, and the clerk doesn’t have records of you existing.”

She also said that for most men, it was their first time in the U.S.

Kinney County Arrested Most Of The Imprisoned Migrants

In Kinney County, more than 80% of all imprisoned men are arrested in the county. According to Jindal, almost all her new clients who were not given attorneys were arrested in Kinney.

According to Kinney County judge Tully Shahan, some men did not ask for counsel and if they did, no local defense attorneys would take their case. In a recent court motion filed, Texas defense attorneys and an immigrant rights lawyer contended that arrested migrants were asked by local officials to sign documents waiving their right to counsel without knowing what they were signing since documents were written in English.

In another court petition, 300 men had been in prison without charges filed within the 15-day deadline for trespassing as of mid-September. The petition was filed by Texas Rio Grande Legal aid which is defending most of the arrested men.

The county’s misdemeanor prosecutor Brent Smith filed criminal charges last week against 50 to 75 migrants, the county clerk said.

Almost 730 men who are locked up in Texas prisons had been arrested in Kinney County since July and none of them had a court date set as of last week because of the delays.

Status of Prisoned Migrants In Val Verde County

In Val Verde County, where migrant arrests started, court hearings for about 15 to 20 men have led to the release from prison of defendants who accepted plea offers of 15-days sentences or their charges were dismissed.

Men who were released are sent to federal immigration authorities. They were either deported, stayed in detention, or released in the U.S. awaiting asylum hearings. But still, nearly 50 men who were arrested in the county still wait for formal charges for over 15 days this September, according to the TRLA petition.

Local Systems Were Not Ready For Enormous Flood Of Migrant Arrests   

Defense groups and county officials agree that the local systems were not prepared for the flood of migrant arrests. When the arrest began and legal and logistical problems surfaced immediately, state officials started working behind the scenes to provide judicial support and finance legal costs.

As soon as Texas discovered Kinney County had arrested over hundreds of men without providing lawyers for them, officials moved for a new state system to take over as it did for the Val Verde arrests. With the delays of filing charges, attorneys believe that migrants are getting lost in the system.

Jindal said that one of their clients was gone from prison when her attorneys went for a visit. They assumed that he was able to post bond, but there was no clear documentation of it or any sign of the man was deported.

For some clients, attorneys couldn’t find paperwork describing when or why they were arrested.

“When it comes to people’s rights, the Constitution, the criminal legal system, it’s not really a situation where you should be building the plane as you fly it,” Jindal said.

Also Read: Texas Border Where Majority Of Haitian Migrants Camped Partially Reopened