AUSTIN — The Texas House Corrections Committee has been researching the impact border security has had on our state prison population and criminal justice department. Kinney County Attorney Brent Smith and Tonya Ahlschwede, district attorney of the 452nd Judicial District, were among those who testified earlier this week.
Ahlschwede serves as one of 17 members of the Border Prosecution Unit, which has been helping prosecutors in border counties. Recent influxes in illegal border crossings, combined with the Biden-Harris administration’s temporary catch-and-release policy, resulted in overwhelming case numbers and incarcerations in under-equipped county courts.
“It’s like trying to build a dam while the floodgates are open,” Smith said, referencing a backlog of cases now drowning his office. He is the sole attorney for Kinney County, responsible for prosecuting every misdemeanor count of trespassing reported there. This includes cases involving illegal immigrants passing through.
Smith explained that his office had never needed more than two employees (himself and a non-attorney assistant). Now, his two-man operation has been overwhelmed with a swarm of 800 pending trespassing cases and 40-50 arrests daily. Their office only recently acquired dedicated prosecution software. Even now, with the help of the state-funded Border Prosecution Unit, Smith admits that there are more cases filed each day than they are capable of processing.
Texas’ open border with Mexico is resulting in hundreds of illegal immigrants slipping past security measures and finding themselves on ranchers’ land. According to Ahlschwede and Smith, sightings and encounters with groups of illegal aliens have become all too common in border counties and those adjacent.
“Every county is becoming a border county. … Where are these folks going? They are going to you; they are going all over the United States,” Ahlschwede said.
She also clarified a common misconception about illegal immigration:
I think another thing that is commonly misunderstood or misconstrued is there are people coming across the border that voluntarily surrender to Border Patrol and want to be processed and receive their packet and their information, and they will say they’re going to come back for their court date whenever they are told to come back for that court date. The folks that we are catching with criminal trespass cases, and cases where they are being smuggled by a smuggler, they are not surrendering to Border Patrol. Those are the folks that are walking out through the countryside; they have not gone to the Border Patrol surrender point under the bridge, like you saw in Del Rio.
Ahlschwede’s statement raises serious questions and concerns for Texans. Why have local county officials become responsible for prosecuting illegal immigrants and protecting the interior of Texas from the threat of an unsecured border?
Smith spoke to that.
“Basically, Border Patrol is out of the picture at this moment. They’re busy processing. You call them and they’re not showing up,” said Smith.
Smith further described the situation:
Val Verde is more of the amnesty portion of people coming in and surrendering, and it’s more of a human resource need for aid. In Kinney County, we’re kind of the hub for the smuggling part of it. Right now, if someone crosses the border and walks through Kinney County, there’s nothing standing in their way except the ranchers—that’s it.
DPS has been a great presence on the highway, but we have no one on the ground to protect our citizens. I think there’s one team of DPS that are on the ranches that are doing a great job, but we need about 15 more of those teams.
As the Kinney County jail can only house 14 inmates, it has been overwhelmed and was forced to release misdemeanor trespassing offenders with nothing more than a court date and a promise to return. Now they and other border counties can transfer smugglers and illegal immigrants to the Briscoe and Segovia detention units, where court proceedings are being handled digitally. Ahlschwede said this system is “a well-oiled machine.”
The Biden-Harris administration appears reluctant to stop illegal border crossings, and many Texans have called on Gov. Greg Abbott to take matters into his own hands. But thus far, Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star” has failed to significantly alleviate any of the aforementioned issues, much less stop all illegal border crossings. Two of Abbott’s primary opponents recently presented their own border security plans with Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson.
— Allen West (@AllenWest) September 28, 2021
When I am Governor of Texas I will use Article I, Section 10 of the US Constitution to secure the Texas Border. I will never ask permission from the federal government.
— Don Huffines (@DonHuffines) September 30, 2021
Kinney County’s portion of the border only accounts for a fraction of the 1,241 miles of the Rio Grande between Texas and Mexico. Brent Smith’s situation is not unique. Thirty-two Texas counties share the border. Each one of them is just like Kinney County, overwhelmed and under-equipped. If nothing changes, Ahlschwede may have been correct: Every county may soon be a border county.