Migrants arrested as part of Governor Greg Abbott’s border security breach have been detained for weeks or months, waiting to appear before a judge. Around 90 should finally be heard this week, but the trial has been dropped.
by Jolie McCullough
Nov 30, 20211 hour ago
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After months of missteps and delays, the court system is already sluggish , which handles crimes of migrants arrested under Governor Greg Abbott’s border security effort, came to a standstill after two Kinney County officials tested positive for COVID-19.
More than 90 men arrested by the state for trespassing had to abruptly cancel their first court appointments this week. Nearly 30 of them have been in state jail for up to three months without seeing a judge.
A county spokesperson confirmed that Kinney county judge Tully Shahan is holding one of four trespassing trials this week Was supposed to guide migrants, and the district court coordinator had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Defense attorneys said they were told on Sunday that their clients’ hearings were canceled this week without knowing when they will be reset.
“They are pending,” said Amrutha Jindal, a defense attorney Houston, whose organization represents multiple migrants whose hearings have been canceled. “As this is a provisional court, it does not seem to have the standard backup procedures that a traditional court system would have for such cases.”
The migrants were arrested after Abbott flooded the rural border district with state police in July and ordered them to detain men suspected of illegally crossing the Texas-Mexico border for state crimes. Migrants are almost always arrested for trespassing, arrested at a train station or in private ranches.
The system that has resulted in nearly 2,000 trespassing arrests in Kinney and Val Verde counties has been problematic since its inception plagued. Police have mistakenly separated asylum-seeking families to make arrests, prosecution delays have resulted in prolonged and unlawful detentions, and small court systems are cluttered with crime cases that can result in a maximum of one year imprisonment.
In Kinney County, it took Months after the mass arrests began, until trials were held, and these themselves were fraught with missteps. In their first trial before a judge, the defendants are charged and the charges are brought before them. You are asked to plead guilty, not guilty or not in dispute. In the migrants’ cases, defense lawyers often address legal issues that have surfaced in the weeks or months since their arrest.
“It’s literally like winning the lottery when your case is charged,” said Kristin Etter, a lawyer at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which represents hundreds of migrants arrested by Abbott as part of Operation Lone Star.
Unlike typical criminal justice systems, Etter said that a rotating list of prosecutors and judges in the trespassing system kept her in mind prevent them from quickly negotiating lower bonds or releases for their clients. And since there are few trials, her first appearing in court often takes months after arrest and is the first time she’s able to file motions such as the flawed prosecutors that have resulted in dozens of cases that have been dismissed .
Of around 90 men accused of trespassing who were charged with a judge for their first Zoom appearance this week, 29 are still in jail, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. That means they haven’t booked a bond, which is usually between $ 1,000 and $ 5,000. The detained men have been in jail for weeks or months since their arrest, with at least several detained for more than 90 days, Etter said.
In previous hearings, several of the rotating judges who try trespassing cases have chosen it to release detained migrants for free after their first appearance in court while their case is pending, if their case is not dismissed and they plead not guilty, which almost all migrants have done.
As their clients’ hearings this week canceled, Jindal and Etter said they would continue to push for the men to be released for a free loan in hopes of getting district attorney approval or other judges holding hearings solely on reducing loan amounts so the men can be released from prison while waiting for a court date. </ "I definitely don't want to keep them locked on the calendar without a court date," said Jindal.
Matt Benacci, a county spokesman, said the hearings are expected to resume next week. He said Kinney County’s Attorney Brent Smith believed the court “will double the time.” “You were put down,” Etter said Monday after her organization spoke to her 18 clients in custody, whose hearings were canceled this week. “This is something they have been looking forward to for a long time, telling them not only that our court date is canceled, but that we have no idea when it will reset … it’s hard.”
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