Texas Governor Abbott is proposing a new comprehensive border security plan for the state’s southern border with Mexico. Abbott held a Border Security Summit in Del Rio last week where he made some major announcements. One county sheriff is putting the brakes on the support shown by other county law enforcement.
Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson is skeptical that the governor’s proposal to arrest single male illegal migrants for trespassing, for example, will be doable. The governor said at the summit that unaccompanied minors and families would not fall under his order to arrest illegal migrants at the border. The order to arrest them would be aimed at single male illegal migrants, the fastest-growing group. Even with narrowing down who would be arrested, Sheriff Dodson points out that there is not enough jail space available to handle the large number of migrants flooding the border and waiting to be picked up by law enforcement.
Brewster County is the largest county by area in the state. It is 6,192 square miles, over three times the size of the state of Delaware, for comparison. It is located in the Trans-Pecos region of West Texas and borders Mexico. Dodson is very familiar with the flow of migrants across the southern border. During the summit, Governor Abbott announced that he proposes that Texas secure its border with Mexico by adding on to the border wall. It is unclear if he means actual wall construction as occurred during the Trump administration or if he means fencing. He may mean simply plugging up gaps in border barriers left wide open when Joe Biden put a halt to border wall construction on the first day of his administration in January. The specific plan is to be presented this week by Governor Abbott.
A major change in policy is Abbotts proposal to charge illegal migrants with a Class B misdemeanor for criminal trespassing if they are apprehended on private land. Currently it is a Class C misdemeanor. This change allows county jails to hold them for 180 days. The problem with this proposal is that there is not nearly enough jail capacity available in border counties. Sheriff Dodson notes that his jail would be filled in no time. Right now the proposal is “not even feasible”.
“There’s no way,” Dodson said. “Really and truly, it’s not even feasible. I’ve been in almost forty years, and I’ve never seen a judge in this county put somebody in jail for a Class B for 180 days.”
The problem isn’t just a lack of precedent.
“You know, we’d fill our jail up in minutes,” Dodson said. “Where do we go then?”
The Brewster County Jail has 54 beds, 50 of them currently full. If Abbott wants to put this plan in place, a sizeable investment into law enforcement infrastructure would need to be made to expand the jail.
“I’ll need at least $8 million,” Dodson said. “So, is he going to give this county $8 million to add onto the jail?”
Abbott has indicated funds will be available to stop the flow of undocumented migrants, but questions abound about how that money, and how much, will be doled out to counties.
“At the end of the day, he did say he had money and that he wanted to create 10,000-bed spaces for jails to house immigrants,” Dodson said.
It isn’t necessarily that Sheriff Dodson doesn’t support the governor’s ideas, it is that as the chief law enforcement officer on the ground in his county, he points out the practical reality of such a change. He’ll be the one tasked with enforcing policy changes and finding places to house detainees.
As far as the border wall proposal goes, Dodson points to the terrain in the county and says wall construction isn’t likely possible. “If you’re familiar with our terrain, it would be almost impossible to build any kind of wall.” Dodson said of area sheriffs, “We’re still kind of in a daze.” Other sheriffs grouse that Abbott held his summit at the border to deliver orders to them instead of listening to them. Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said it isn’t that he disagrees with Abbott’s ideas, it is that the announcements have left him and others “shocked”. He specifically questions why Abbott asked the border county sheriffs to make a disaster declaration as Abbott did with Hidalgo County and 16 other hold-out border counties.
“I feel his frustration. I feel why he’s trying to move in the direction he is. However, I’m very concerned that he wants not only the state of Texas but all municipalities and counties to take on the duties of the federal government with respect to immigration and border security,” Cortez said.
Cortez is right, of course. It is the federal government’s responsibility to handle immigration and border security issues. We know, though, that the Biden administration is still in a heavy state of denial that the situation on the southern border is a crisis at all. Neither Biden nor his border czar Kamala Harris have bothered to make even a brief stop in any of the border counties to see first-hand the problems that local communities and Border Patrol are left to handle since taking office.
Other county sheriffs came away from the summit willing to take up the governor on his request that they make disaster declarations. This frees up state money for the communities that are so strapped for resources to handle the flow of migrants who are crossing the border. All eyes and ears remain on the governor and his presentation this week.