HRW was “especially” concerned about proposals for a 20-year punishment for a state crime created on the illegal entry of migrants into Texas.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced that the anti-migrant proposals that will be addressed in the special session of the Texas legislature convened by Governor Greg Abbott on October 10th, “will increase human rights violations and would lead to long sentences for thousands of young Texans.”
HRW was “especially” concerned about proposals a 20-year punishment for a state crime created for the illegal entry of migrants into Texas, authorize state law enforcement to deport asylum seekers for illegal entry, and increase penalties for human smuggling.
“The crime of illegal entry already exists in federal law”, said HRW advisor in Texas, Bob Libal, in a statement in which he indicated that, “in addition to being duplicative, this insensitive proposal is totally contrary to the regulations of Human Rights that prohibit governments from deporting refugees to persecution or punishing refugees for illegal entry.”
Texas police are not qualified to handle asylum requests
In this sense, the representative of the NGO pointed out that “the state police are not qualified to handle asylum requests or deport people. Their job is to protect public safety.”
These proposals are based on Operation Lone Star, an operation that HRW has described as “discriminatory and abusive” and whose objective is none other than the detention, processing and imprisonment of “perceived immigrants and others” for “minor and serious state crimes.”
While the governor of Texas has defended the need for these new proposals to “reduce illegal migration”, Human Rights Watch “is not aware that Operation Lone Star has stopped migration.”
In fact, the organization has asserted that it “has strengthened illicit players who benefit from the exacerbated fears of migrants and has blocked or prevented opportunities for people to request asylum in the United States, which is their right under US law.”
Consequently, the same statement explains, Operation Lone Star has benefited criminal cartels while “its benefits increase when migrants must attempt to enter the United States through remote and deadly terrain.”
Mandatory Minimum Sentences
Between April 2022 and March 2023, 5,164 people were charged with smuggling and continuous smuggling, according to the Vera Institute of Justice’s Texas Public Safety Reporting System.
Currently, neither of these two crimes carry a mandatory minimum sentence, although an analysis by the ACLU of Texas found that the average prison term for them is approximately one year.
One of the proposals seeks to create a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years for human smuggling and operating a “stash house.”
HRW analyzed publicly available data on people detained on smuggling charges and admitted to Operation Lone Star processing centers in Val Verde and Jim Hogg counties between June 2021 and July 2023.
It concluded that almost 80% of the people booked for smuggling were US citizens with an average age of 26 years; about 13% of those accused of smuggling were between 18 and 19 years old, and at least 12 children between 14 and 17 years old were arrested or charged with smuggling in the same period.
Therefore, “the proposal for mandatory minimums could imprison thousands of young Texans (…) for non-violent crimes, many of them simply for driving migrants, which would make them serve at least ten years in prison”, explained a lawyer from Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, Kristin Etter.
“In reality, most of our clients do not hide people, but are arrested for driving undocumented people in their vehicles in the border area.”
“Subjecting people charged with a non-violent driving offense to a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years in prison is so disproportionate and lacking any sense of justice or fairness.”
Racial and ethnic profiling
On the other hand, defense attorneys pointed out that Operation Lone Star has also led to the generalization of racial and ethnic profiling in border communities.
“We know that mandatory minimums are empirically problematic because they deprive judges of discretion (in the sentencing phase)”, said Lubbock County Public Defenders Operation Lone Star Chief Defender, Amrutha Jindal.
“People will face ten years in prison for a specific mistake, because they were attracted by social networks. There have been a lot of studies on racial profiling already taking place under Operation Lone Star, and I fear that the number of unjustified stops is going to increase.”
“A large majority of smuggling arrests were the result of illegal and unconstitutional identifications,” Etter added.
“Some of the reasons given for the stops have been having Austin license plates or because they were eating in the car.”
“There have been searches of cars because they supposedly ‘smelled like immigrants.’” (Europa Press)
Original article at https://tinyurl.com/2536c6zt
Translated by Schools for Chiapas