Earlier this year, Governor Greg Abbott began a new program on the U.S. Mexico border designed to arrest undocumented immigrants for the crime of trespassing. It’s turned into a giant mess with several Border Patrol agents being accused of using the directive to stage fake trespassing attempts in order to arrest immigrants.
The most famous case right now comes out of Val Verde County, where Abbott’s program has led to the area being swarmed with agents. According to the eleven men who were charged with trespassing and spent two months in jail, they had fled from agents after a traffic stop. Once captured, they claim that the agents made them walk for twenty minutes until they found a ten-foot fence and were forced to climb it. Once inside, they were subsequently arrested for trespassing.
Border Patrol spokespeople denied the claims of the immigrant men as “absolutely false,” but the case was so muddled and confusing that Val Verde County Attorney David Martinez ultimately dismissed the charges. Unfortunately, these eleven men are not the only ones being caught up in the new anti-immigrant zeal. Martinez has tossed out more than half of the 231 trespassing arrests that have occurred since Abbott launched the program.
In September, a 61-year-old Venezuelan man named Nerio was also detained for trespassing, but his case was rejected by Martinez. He had deliberately come to Border Patrol agents seeking asylum at what he thought was public land but was actually a private road. Bodycam footage from the Border Patrol showed them opening a gate for Nerio to walk through, inviting him in, before having him arrested for trespassing.
The entire program has often been confusing as well as full of contradictions. Despite the fact that the initiative is supposed to target only single men, some families have been separated using the trespassing excuse. Many of the people caught are legitimate asylum seekers according to Martinez and are coming from countries in political turmoil after years of American meddling.
Border security is something high on Abbott’s mind as the 2022 election season begins to get underway. Attacked from his right-wing base over the few anti-COVID measures he put in place in the early days of the pandemic, Abbott has spent much of 2021 shoring up his conservative bonafides. Appearing to crackdown tough on undocumented immigrants would presumably boost his approval ahead of his primary challengers.
However, if the actions in Val Verde are any indication, Abbott’s directives are doing little to remove the “dangerous criminals” that are supposed to be the target and are instead leading to the arrests of asylum seekers either making simple mistakes when it comes to property lines or being deliberately misled by the Border Patrol. It’s all part of Abbott’s plan to mark himself as tough on border security.
“We have a new program contrary to the Biden plan to catch & release,” Abbott said on Twitter. “The Texas plan is to catch & to jail.”