Texas emptied a prison to make room for illegal migrants under new orders from Governor Abbott

AP Photo/Eric Gay

Governor Greg Abbott announced that last week that Texas will build a southern border wall to ease the flood of illegal migrants crossing into the state. As part of his announcement, he included that local law enforcement will be empowered to arrest single male migrants when they are apprehended. An obvious question immediately arose – where will local communities hold those who are arrested?

That question is beginning to be answered. State officials began emptying a prison in order to free up some space for them in anticipation of the need. Don’t be alarmed, the prisoners weren’t set free, they were transferred to other facilities with the room.

Officials began transferring prisoners Wednesday from Dolph Briscoe Unit in Dilley — a small city around an hour drive southwest of San Antonio — to other facilities with available capacity so the prison can be used as a central holding facility for immigrants arrested as part of Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesperson Jeremy Desel said in a statement. It will be used to hold immigrants who have been charged with state or federal crimes, he said. It is unclear what charges these could entail, and Desel could not confirm whether that would include low-level charges.

Officials have not yet started detaining immigrants in the facility, but it will have capacity for about 1,000 people. Desel confirmed the facility has no air conditioning, which is true about many prisons in the state. Weather forecasts for the area show highs surpassing 100 degrees next week.

“The state of Texas continues to deal with a record-high influx of individuals illegally crossing the border,” Desel said in the statement. “To address the ongoing crisis, Governor Abbott is directing state resources to arrest and confine those individuals crossing the border unlawfully and who have committed a state or federal crime.”

Yes. It is hot in Texas during the summer and into the fall months. It is also hot where the migrants are coming from so it is not as though the hellacious Texas heat is anything new to them. And, it’s likely that those illegally crossing the border with the help of a coyote or human trafficker didn’t have air-conditioning at home. The slanted reporting to tug at our heartstrings is predictable. Prisons around this state and other states are not air-conditioned. Prisons are not comfortable places, to state the obvious. One of the outcomes that state officials point to with illegal migration is people die from the summer heat along the way.

During that press conference Wednesday, Governor Abbott made a reference to prison beds being available for those migrants who are arrested. In the case of this prison, no additional personnel will be needed.

Abbott referenced the available prison beds during his press conference Wednesday and said that the state may “need staff to staff those jail beds as well as others that may come up.” He said some states may send jail or enforcement officers to work with state agencies and local officials to meet staffing demands.

Desel said the prison’s current staff members — who total around 230 — will continue to staff the facility, and no external officers will be enlisted at this time. The TDCJ will provide “appropriate services” to those detained in the prison in conjunction with the Windham School District and the University of Texas Medical Branch, Desel said. But he said he couldn’t give details on what those services would include.

It sounds like the prisoners will be given the same services that other detainees receive – educational options and medical care.

The escalated rhetoric used by some politicians is common during debates about illegal immigration, especially in border states like Texas. Now that illegal migration is happening at historically high levels, things have gone from bad to worse. This week much is being made about the use of the word “invasion” when it comes to describing the flood of migrants crossing the southern border. It’s a perfectly legitimate term to use because that is exactly what the constant stream of illegal migrants is. They aren’t tourists, they aren’t legal residents of the U.S., they aren’t students on visas, they are trying to break into the country by way of the southern border. That may sound harsh but how else is it to be described? It’s an illegal act no matter what words you use. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick used the word “invasion” recently and one Texas lawmaker who represents the El Paso area ratcheted up the heat. Rep. Victoria Escobar said he will have “blood on his hands” if migrants die. Her reference was to the mass shooter in El Paso in 2019 who referenced an invasion in his unhinged rants pre-attack.

It seems to me that everyone can de-escalate here. Dan Patrick is not responsible for migrants who die either making the journey here or once they get here. The truth is, he is dealing with the reality on the ground, as is the governor. The Biden border crisis has been left up to the governors of border states to handle the problems that arise, including where and how to house those who are apprehended. Governor Abbott is using the tools he has available. Now that includes making arrests of single male migrants for breaking trespassing laws, as an example of how they will be prosecuted. They can also be arrested for smuggling and human trafficking. He specifically said he does not want families or women and children to be part of his order to arrest illegal migrants. The fastest-growing segment is single males. Often the human traffickers get away and escape prosecution, leaving the migrants on their own. If now the criminal justice system has to be used, so be it.

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