By Cheyenne Galloway
AUSTIN, TX – The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (ACLU), Covington & Burling LLP and Texas Fair Defense Project filed a lawsuit this week over the unjust and drawn-out sentences of four immigrants seeking asylum, according to the ACLU of Texas.
Administered by Kinney and Val Verde County in 2021 and 2022, the detention of these migrants was extended for an additional 13 to 42 days after having their charges dropped or fulfilling their sentence, noted the lawsuit, calling it a blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“Texas’ cruel border politics and policies are wasteful, inflammatory, and riddled with human and civil rights abuses,” said David Donatti, attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “Our clients were locked up for days and weeks after state law commanded they should be released.”
Donatti added, “(H)undreds or thousands of others have been subjected to the same or similar disregard of their rights. Gov. Abbott has manipulated unchecked executive power and Texas’ criminal laws to leverage control over border communities and endanger migrants. In the United States, and in Texas, the government cannot impose criminal penalties without due process of law.”
Named in the suit, said the ACLU, are two county sheriffs in Kinney County and Val Verde County, as well as the private company, Warden of Briscoe and Segovia Unit State Prison, who were collectively responsible for the over-detention of the four individuals in this lawsuit.
Under Gov. Greg Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star” (OLS), the four plaintiffs were arrested for misdemeanor trespass. This program operates as a border policy in the state of Texas.
Fundamentally, it grants Texas National Guard members, Department of Public Safety troopers, and local and state law enforcement the ability to target, arrest, and over-detain migrants based on criminal trespass charges, said the ACLU.
This new program initiated by Texas’s governor raises concerns surrounding justice and the treatment of asylum seekers. To illustrate, OLS authorized the construction of hazardous border control methods, such as lining the waters and banks of the Rio Grande with concertina wire.
The OLS system forces those arrested into pretrial facilities, often miles away from where they were initially arrested. The plaintiffs of the lawsuit also reported repugnant conditions during their over-detention, said the ACLU, noting, “They were not given an adequate amount of food, were rarely allowed to go outside, suffered from inadequate heat or clothing, and received insufficient access to medical care during their detention. They were incarcerated in these conditions for months before receiving any due process. They continued to be incarcerated after their charges had been dismissed or their sentences had been served.”
The pleading said the Texas government has poured billions of dollars into Operation Lone Star to ensure the unjust detention of migrants by deploying national and state guards and seizing private property and public facilities. According to the ACLU, authorities intentionally mislead injured individuals and families in smoldering temperatures and inhuman conditions.
Texas legislation also continues to approve billions in funds for more border policing policies.
Managing Attorney for Litigation at the Texas Fair Defense Project, Camilla Hsu, states, “The government cannot just grab whoever they want off the street and lock them in cages as long as they feel like it….the legal process said there was no reason for our clients to be in jail, but instead of letting them go, the defendants in this case illegally jailed them with no authority whatsoever for weeks. Abuses like this are horrifying, but sadly unsurprising, in the sham criminal legal system of Operational Lone Star.”