Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star border initiative has resulted in the separation of at least 26 migrant families since July 10, according to Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid immigration attorney Kristin Etter.
Etter reports that the majority of her two-dozen clients were Venezuelan asylum seekers who planned to surrender to US immigration authorities in an Eagle Pass park. Instead, they were transported by air vessels or on land by Texas Department of Public Safety state troopers to areas where they were collected up and then separated. “Some of our clients have reported that DPS officers cut the (concertina) wire so they can get through, only to be arrested after they do so,” Etter explained.
According to Etter, Texas is separating men from their families, as opposed to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy in 2018, which separated children from their mothers and fathers. Etter stated, “They have no idea where their children and partners were taken, so there is a great deal of despair and worry.”
According to Etter, in the majority of cases, authorities have apprehended the father of a family unit for criminal trespass under state law, while the mother and children have been turned over to US Border Patrol agents. Etter stated that all of these arrests were false. The statute on criminal trespass was never intended to be used to detain individuals for immigration violations.
In recent months, Biden administration officials have grown increasingly concerned about Abbott’s actions along the Texas-Mexico border, which have disrupted US Border Patrol operations in the region and endangered migrants. Last week, the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas for its use of floating barriers in the Rio Grande, which Texas Governor Greg Abbott claims are intended to deter migrants from entering the state from Mexico.
Tuesday, the Eagle Pass City Council voted unanimously to rescind an affidavit allowing DPS troopers to enforce criminal trespass laws in a city-owned park along the Rio Grande. A video of the meeting was posted to the city’s Facebook page. During the meeting’s remark period, several residents complained that DPS had transformed the park into a “war zone” by installing concertina wire and shipping containers along the Rio Grande. A specific resident stated, “We want our park back.”
Attorney: Communication is Challenging
According to Etter, the manner in which Texas DPS troopers dress at the frontier is also causing confusion, as some of them don green uniforms similar to those worn by US frontier Patrol.
“The majority of our clients believe they are meeting with immigration officials,” said Etter. At the time of the detention, some of Etter’s clients were told, “Don’t worry, you’ll be reunited in immigration custody,” according to Etter.
However, according to Etter, the actuality is much more severe. Her male clients are taken to state prisons that have been converted to jails and have limited or no means of communicating with their families who are housed in immigration detention centers.
According to Etter, this is a change in the border policy of the Texas Department of Public Safety. While the agency acknowledges that family separations occur, it has not responded . “There have been instances where DPS has apprehended male migrants on state charges while they were with their families at the time of the alleged offense. Travis Considine, chief of communications for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said in a statement that children and their mothers were never separated before being handed over to the US Border Patrol. Etter says that despite the criminal trespass arrests, the state legal issues do not prevent these separated families from pursuing asylum under federal law.
Etter stated, “It’s essentially a very harsh and cruel detour in the asylum process, but it’s not an obstacle because our clients have been able to request asylum and many of our clients have been released back into the country and can eventually reunite with their families.” Other immigration lawyers who represent asylum seekers are also endeavoring to determine the number of separated families.
Amrutha Jindal, chief defender at Lubbock Private Defenders Office, as saying, “We are determining what we can do to assist these families in their reunification efforts.” Since July 2021, the nonprofit has represented more than 10,000 asylum seekers after receiving a state grant to represent poor migrants during Operation Lone Star. Jindal estimated that over 500 migrants have been apprehended at Shelby Park since June.
Jindal stated, “We know that a portion of them are from family units that have been separated, and it is likely that there are even more family units that have been separated that we are unaware of.”