Governor, sheriffs forge ahead with border plans

AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott and some county sheriffs met Saturday as part of ongoing border security meetings to discuss moving ahead with plans to deter, arrest and incarcerate migrants entering the U.S. through ports of entry and damaging private property along the way.

“One reason why they’re in the capital today and why they will be in the capital this coming week,” the governor said referring to the sheriffs, “is because I put on this special session agenda the funding of more border security efforts.”

A budget of over $1 billion dollars allocated for border security was approved by the state legislature and the governor but sheriffs need to draw their budgets, testify and justify the expenses to the legislature before they receive funding.

This is part of Abbott’s multi-faceted border plan in Del Rio on June 10 that includes creating barriers, building a wall, arresting migrants trespassing private property, and incarcerating them for up to six months in counties remaining in the amended proclamation of disaster.

Eleven sheriffs participated in the forum, including Zapata County Sheriff Raymundo del Bosque Jr. and Kinney County Sheriff Brad Coe, who sent a letter to the governor in May regarding a lack of ambulances to cover both migrants and county residents.

Brooks County’s sheriff was unable to attend due to scheduling problems, Sheriff Benny Martinez told The Monitor.

Sheriffs were able to communicate their needs for their county to the governor.

“At the local level, they need more manpower in dealing with these people coming across the border, including, especially, dealing with gang members and dealing with people from very dangerous countries,” Abbott said.

One of the gangs mentioned by Zapata County Sheriff Del Bosque was Tango Blast. A suspected gang member and human smuggler was arrested the same morning of the meeting in Zapata.

On Saturday morning, Zapata County sheriff deputies working Operation Stonegarden, a federal overtime program, arrested a man driving 27 migrants, including four juveniles, in a truck with AT&T decals, according to Sheriff Del Bosque. One of the migrants fled into the brush and the others were detained. The vehicle had a GPS tracker, but it’s unknown if the truck was cloned or stolen.

An AT&T truck was seized in Zapata County during a an alleged smuggling operation. Authorities are trying to determine if it is a real company truck or a copy. (Courtesy Photo)

Photos shared by Del Bosque show tattoos on the driver they suspect to be a gang member.

Human smuggling charges are expected, though migrants are still turned over to Border Patrol for processing.

Abbott’s plan intends for migrants, who trespass private property, to be charged with aggravated trespassing in counties subject to the declaration of disaster. Those arrests have yet to start in Zapata, Brooks, or Kinney counties, according to their sheriffs.

Barriers, aside from a border wall, will be constructed to draw a boundary around private property. Trespassing charges will stem from incursions on that land.

So far, no barriers have yet to be created in Zapata, Brooks or Kinney either. Though the governor said Saturday the process remains underway.

Jail space is also limited in all three counties.

In Zapata, their jail can hold up to 192 beds for men and 48 beds for women. In Kinney County, the space is much smaller with a total capacity of about 15.

Both are planning on increasing their jail space.

Del Bosque said he’s requesting a two-year budget of $25 million from the state to create either a concrete addition to the jail or a detached space that could add up to 120 beds, pending a decision from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the sheriff said. It would also add a building close to Falcon Lake for a marine patrol to house DPS, game wardens, Zapata County sheriff’s deputies and Border Patrol to allow for quick deployment and migrant processing.

Kinney County, which sits in an area of the Texas border that’s seen a 457% increase in border apprehensions this year, submitted to the state a two-year budget of $3.5 million dollars.

“My county, with six deputies, we can’t handle a whole lot, because I’ve got other things to do,” Kinney County Sheriff Brad Coe said.

The budget includes for the hiring of four additional deputies, four new jailers, vehicles, equipment, uniforms, vehicle maintenance and other logistical expenses.

Coe said they’re also seeking to create additional jail space by adding a soft-sided temporary holding facility, or processing facility, where they can handle more than the 15 the jail can currently hold.

Aside from logistics, sheriffs and the governor are working out the legal parameters of their plan.

“Of course, we need to make sure that nobody’s rights are being violated,” Coe said.

District attorneys will also need to plan how to prosecute an increase of migrants arrested for trespassing, which may be further complicated by a pandemic-induced backlog in the state courts, Coe said.

Other complications are yet to be addressed.

Many of the migrants entering the U.S. are part of families that include children.

Zapata County Sheriff Del Bosque said his office works closely with Child Protective Services, but jails cannot hold minors. He said the state is still looking into it.

“It’s a very simple plan but there’s a lot of moving parts to it,” Coe said.