McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has invited local law enforcement leaders to a “Border Security Summit” next week in the border city of Del Rio, Texas, two South Texas peace officers confirmed to Border Report, saying they hope it sheds light on recent comments the governor made on FOX News regarding his desire to arrest “everybody coming across the border.”
Abbott on Wednesday night told FOX News’ Sean Hannity: “We got a new game in town in the state of Texas that’s going to begin next week.”
“I’m being very clear. The law that I’m going to be used will be legal ways where Texas is going to start arresting everybody coming across the border,” Abbott told FOX. He said unauthorized border crossers would be charged with “aggravated trespass” and he promised, “they’re going to spend a half a year in jail, if not a year in jail, as well as other actions I will be announcing next week.”
His statements come after Abbott earlier this week issued disaster declarations for 34 border counties due to the migrant influx.
Most of the influx of migrants crossing from Mexico is occurring in deep South Texas, where U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers are allowing hundreds of families to cross and stay in the United States pending their immigration hearings.
Abbott’s unprecedented declaration for the 34 counties relating to immigration came after several counties have issued local disaster declarations of their own due to the immigration influx.
“We’re about to change the way that Texas addresses the challenges on the border and we’re going to start by helping these 34 counties respond by increasing arrests,” he said.
But how and which agencies will be utilized is unclear.
Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra and McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez both told Border Report on Friday morning that they both have been invited to the roundtable discussion on Thursday afternoon to be held in the border town of Del Rio. And they said they hope it will clear up how and exactly what Abbott plans to do.
“It’s an invitation from his office emailed to me about the roundtable and wanting an RSVP,” Guerra said via phone. “I have no details on what he’s planning on announcing over there.”
Both said they do not have the authority to arrest migrants — that is federal law. And they said they do not have the capacity to hold migrants in their jails. Nor do they have the legal ability to hold defendants for extended periods of time unless so ordered by a judge or magistrate, depending upon the crime.
If Abbott intends to involve local law enforcement, Guerra said that is out of his jurisdiction.
“They’d have to break a state law. Being in this country illegally is a federal law that I cannot enforce,” Guerra said. “If he wants to arrest these individuals there is no law for me to arrest an individual that’s here just because he’s here in this country illegally.”
“A state peace officer does not have the authority,” Guerra said. “If someone is in this country illegally, and everybody has certain rights granted to them by the Constitution — and illegal search and seizure included — and I don’t have the ability as a state peace officer for immigration.”
They’d have to break a state law. Being in this country illegally is a federal law that I cannot enforce.”Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra
Guerra said his county jail already is holding over 1,500 individuals, which is 268 more than it is designed to hold. And Hidalgo County has sent 400 others to be held in other county jails because they simply don’t have the room. He said there is no way he could house additional non-violent offenders in his facility.
Guerra said he can’t attend Thursday’s meeting with the governor due to a health reason, but Rodriguez says he plans to go but so far has scant details.
“Obviously, it’s the border topic. Exactly what his premise is going to be I don’t know yet,” Rodriguez said.
The email invitation called it a Border Security Summit, said Rodriguez, who is in charge of public safety for this border town of 150,000 across the Rio Grande from the violent northern Mexican city of Reynosa.
Border Report has asked Gov. Abbott’s staff about the upcoming summit but they said they do not have any details to release “right now.”
“It’s been our position that these immigration issues are a federal jurisdictional matter and not local. I haven’t seen anything that would make me have a difference of opinion on that,” Rodriguez said.
“The criminal justice system that we subscribe to we have separation between law enforcement and the courts, obviously,” Rodriguez. “We don’t have a system where law enforcement is the judge, juror and executioner.”
We don’t have a system where law enforcement is the judge, juror and executioner.”McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez
The governor plans to meet privately with county judges on Thursday at the summit.
Hudspeth County Judge Thomas Neely, 93, plans to make the six-hour drive to the meeting. His county declared a local disaster and Neely told Border Report they are inundated with migrants and human traffickers who are bringing immigrants through rough and dangerous West Texas terrain.
“We just want to be heard and acknowledged and recognized because we’re really concerned about the federal component being shut down when the National Guard leaves,” said Joanna MacKenie, Hudspeth County Emergency Management Coordinator. “I’m glad we’re being listened to … I would definitely say there’s no one answer.”
Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez also confirmed with Border Report that he will attend the summit.
In listening to the FOX interview, Rodriguez thought Abbott was referring to using state law enforcement assets to arrest migrants, not local resources.
“Now whether or not he creates the opportunity for anybody else to do that is a separate item,” he said.
“I haven’t seen anything that pointed to local,” Rodriguez said. “But until we have that meeting and understand otherwise I’m operating from only what I’m catching here and there, right now.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.