The historically high influx of migrants crossing the southern border has placed additional strain on the court system, as Gov. Greg Abbott’s efforts to secure the border are leading to more felony arrests.
Governor Greg Abbott’s border security initiative, Operation Lone Star (OLS), has resulted in 308,700 migrant apprehensions and more than 20,200 criminal arrests since its inception in March 2021, according to the Texas governor’s office.
Of the arrests, about 18,000 have been felony arrests by the Department of Public Safety and police officers from border cities. Most of the felony arrests are for trafficking unlawful migrants.
The high number of felony arrests has contributed to state courts and district attorneys being overwhelmed trying to handle the significant number of cases.
On Monday, witnesses testified before two State House committees that courts are inundated and have fallen behind. Witnesses urged the Texas legislature to find a solution to streamline these cases.
District attorney Tonya Ahlschwede, who represents multiple Texas counties along the border, testified that while there were 64 human smuggling arrests in Kinney County in the 2020 fiscal year, there have been more than 3,000 in the 2022 fiscal year.
“The volume of work that is there is really hard for these offices to handle,” she said. “Most of the counties are fatigued and doing what they can with the resources they have,” Ahlschwede continued.
District court dockets in Texas are expected to increase by 150% due to the influx of felony smuggling arrests.
Committee members on Monday also discussed the issue of repeat offenders trafficking unlawful migrants.
Ahlschwede said it could take 15 to 30 days to complete an arrest report. By then, the alleged smuggler could potentially bond out and commit further offenses in a different jurisdiction.
“We are failing Texans if we are letting these people out to continue to be coyotes,” said State Rep. Mike Schofield (R-Katy).
Federally, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data has shown historic numbers.
In the first 11 months of its fiscal year, more than two million unlawful migrants and asylum seekers were encountered along the U.S. border with Mexico. It’s already an all-time fiscal year high, with the final month’s numbers yet to be counted.
Gov. Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for additional comment in time for press.