EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — As civil rights advocates advised local governments not to participate in Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s “border actions,” the governor on Friday issued a pair of requests in his effort to address what he called a “crisis at the border.”
The governor’s office issued a statewide call for jailers to assist border sheriffs who could anticipate an increase in the arrests of undocumented immigrants. Abbott also urges counties to submit a two-year projected budget for possible reimbursements for expenses related to the migrant surge, money state lawmakers would be asked to approve.
Abbot has repeatedly accused the Biden administration of failing to respond to an increase in illegal immigration at the Texas-Mexico border. In a news release issued Friday, Abbott said, “the State of Texas will not tolerate criminal activity, which is why we are stepping up to address this crisis in the Biden Administration’s absence.”
Abbott’s requests come nearly a month after his May 31 proclamation declaring a state of disaster for 34 Texas counties, due to the dramatic increase in the number of undocumented immigrants being encountered by U.S. Border Patrol agents.
Border Patrol agents and CBP officers “encountered” or apprehended 180,034 migrants in May, a slight increase over the 178,000 taken in during April. Along with the 172,000 encounters in March, federal immigration officials have now detained more than 530,000 foreign nationals making unauthorized entries in the past three months.
The governor’s declaration, however, directs the Texas Department of Public Safety to use its resources to enforce federal and state criminal laws for criminal trespassing, illegal entry, smuggling and human trafficking.
Before that, Abbott had launched Operation Lone Star, which in March sent 1,000 DPS troopers to border communities to “deter” irregular “border crossings.”
When Abbott held a Border Security Summit on June 10 in Del Rio, he announced that individuals who enter the country illegally would be subject to jail time of up to a year.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas on Thursday warned county leaders that engaging in immigration enforcement violates the U.S. Constitution.
In a letter sent to all 34 counties, the ACLU of Texas advised against the participation of local law enforcement in “Abbott’s unilateral efforts to set federal immigration policy, arrest and detain immigrants, and deter people from seeking protection in the United States.”
The ACLU noted that in the U.S. noncitizens have the legal right to seek asylum and other protections, adding that arresting and detaining immigrants due to their immigration status is unconstitutional.
In a statement, ACLU of Texas attorney Kate Huddleston said Abbott cannot seek to enforce “his own version of immigration policy.”
“County officials will be in violation of the law if they enforce the governor’s plan,” Huddleston said in a news release issued Thursday. “The federal government, not states or local governments, sets immigration policy and enforces immigration law. Yet again, the governor is targeting immigrants and inciting fear and xenophobia in our state. These moves are a cruel distraction from the real problems facing the state, such as fixing the failing state electrical grid.”
Abbott on Friday said the state is looking for jailers with supervisory and release experience and current or former jailers who were honorably discharged within the last two years. The governor is also calling for trained booking officers who have experience with the Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (TLETS) and the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS).
Abbotts’s disaster declaration directs the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to work with counties to ensure jails had enough beds for undocumented immigrants arrested for crimes such as trespassing. It also surges resources into border communities to make arrests and to help set up and maintain extra jail space.
“Part of our comprehensive efforts to secure the border include enforcing all state and federal laws, which is why we are calling on jailers and sheriffs across the state to volunteer support for our border sheriffs. Working together, we will secure the border and keep our communities safe,” Abbott said in a news release.
In its letter, the ACLU informs local leaders of the limitations on their authority to engage in actions that seek to enforce federal immigration law.
“This is in part because treatment of immigrants within the United States is ‘one of the most important and delicate’ matters in foreign relations, an area entrusted by the Constitution to the federal government,” the letter reads. “Congress has enacted federal law governing who may be removed from the United States and under what circumstances; providing for pathways for people who have reached the country fleeing violence to seek protection; and authorizing federal immigration enforcement in specific circumstances.”
The ACLU’s letter also formally requests information about guidance that local officials have received from the state, as well as local cooperation with state efforts to arrest immigrants to date, including any arrests or prosecutions they might have carried out.
To read the ACLU of Texas’s letter to the 34 counties targeted by Abbott, click here.
Abbott, meanwhile, is urging county judges across Texas to submit their two-year projected budget for expenses related to the ongoing migrant influx. Counties can submit budget projections through the online Border Budget Forecast Form to be used by the State of Texas to request additional border security funding from the Legislature during the upcoming Special Session, according to a news release.
“As the Biden Administration continues to ignore the crisis at the border, the State of Texas is stepping in to ensure our counties have the resources and support they need to keep their communities safe,” Abbott said. “I urge County Judges to fill out the Border Budget Forecast Form by July 9th to ensure the State of Texas has the information needed to secure additional funding to combat the ongoing crisis at our southern border.”
The 34 counties that received the ACLU letter are Brewster, Brooks, Cameron, Crockett, Culberson, Dimmit, Duval, Edwards, El Paso, Goliad, Gonzales, Hidalgo, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Jim Hogg, Kenedy, Kinney, La Salle, Lavaca, Maverick, McMullen, Pecos, Presidio, Real, Reeves, Starr, Sutton, Terrell, Uvalde, Val Verde, Webb, Willacy, Zapata and Zavala.
In advising localities, the ACLU of Texas is also asking agencies to adopt policies that train local law enforcement officers to ensure they do not violate the Constitution or federal law when interacting with immigrants, including refraining from making stops based on perceived immigration status, race, ethnicity or language.