The southern border is at the center of controversy as Texas Governor Greg Abbott takes a hard stance on immigration contrary to President Biden's plans for immigration reform. Now, a Texas prison, converted to a high-security detention center, is open for business.
By now, many people are familiar with ICE and the overcrowded detention centers on the southern border. Family separation and mass incarceration are a constant fear for immigrants in the United States, and their fears, understandably, continue to grow.
The Briscoe Unit in Dilley is the newest edition to the detention center network. The need for a new facility comes as Gov. Abbott ramps up his immigration initiative into overdrive as law enforcement officers continue to arrest over 50 immigrants per day.
The sheriff's office said that most of the Briscoe detainees were arrested on charges of criminal trespassing – a crime that Abbott is anxious to stop. Trespassing and "criminal mischief" are both misdemeanors that could land immigrants in prison for up to one year.
The overall goal of this crackdown on migrants has led the governor to empower local police to make arrests for state crimes instead of allowing ICE or Department of Homeland Security agents to handle them as federal crimes.
Operation Lone Star
Nearly 150 guards have been employed at the Briscoe facility since its opening. While there's been a sharp increase in staffing for Briscoe, other facilities remain critically understaffed. To jumpstart Operation Lone Star, Abbott and others agreed to siphon $250 million from the department of prisons to fund their anti-immigration efforts.
Many are concerned by Abbott's policies and their effect on immigrants. However, the story from the jail standards commission paints a different picture. Officials say that so far, they are working with jail standards and regulators to ensure that the prison is up to code and safe for inmates. Medical staff, officers, and guards have been added to the Briscoe roster in an effort to protect the public and keep the prison compliant with regulatory standards.
Other regulatory efforts are in the works as well. Texas jails must be cooled at or below 85 degrees, but most prisons, including the Val Verde facility, are notorious for their lack of air conditioning. Spokesperson Robert Hurst says air conditioning is being wired throughout housing facilities with generators.
What Happens Next?
There are a fair amount of skeptics who doubt that these safety measures will take place. Brandon Wood, Executive Director of the Jail Standards Commission, says one building has been cleared and checked by detainees, but issues still need to be resolved before inmates step foot in Briscoe.
County Attorney David Martinez is especially wary of Abbott's claims and says that housing standards under the governor's directive are problematic. He has called for three prosecutors to be present at Briscoe to help with sentencing, but he will do so with the intention of turning the detainees over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"This is going to be very grating on everyone in the process. If we start seeing numbers of 50-plus a day of arrests, we could easily be consumed by it," says Martinez.
It seems like Martinez's fears are likely to come to life if Abbott's special forces continue to arrest immigrants at the current rate. If these trends continue, not only will migrants in Texas be at risk for incarceration and deportation, but prison staff and officials may be overwhelmed by the demands of a state-run program that is supposed to be a federal matter.