Travis County can't weigh the constitutionality of hundreds of migrants' arrests tied to Gov. Greg Abbott's border enforcement effort, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Wednesday.
The appeals court prohibited Travis County from resolving any challenges to misdemeanor cases arising in Kinney County. The ruling comes after state District Judge Jan Soifer in January had dismissed the trespassing case against one man from Ecuador who is seeking asylum.
His lawyers said he was among thousands of migrants arrested as part of Operation Lone Star, Abbott's effort to crack down on illegal border crossings. They argued his charge was unconstitutional, and Soifer agreed.
Kinney County swiftly appealed Soifer's order.
The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure states that these types of challenges can be filed in any county in the state. Soon after Soifer's order, a legal defense group filed a challenge in Travis County court of more than 400 arrests they said were part of Operation Lone Star, but the Court of Criminal Appeals delayed Soifer's ability to hear those cases pending the outcome of the appeal.
However, the appeals court said the challenge should first be filed in the local district where the charge arose, and if that is not possible, then an adjacent district should be consulted.
"Our court has jurisdiction over the entire state, and thus at least some interest in (these challenges) arising anywhere in Texas," the appeals court wrote. "The same cannot be said of a trial court of a different geographic location than the one in which the case arose."
As for the man seeking asylum, Jesus Guzman Curipoma, Kinney County's appeal of his dismissed case is still pending.
"Sometimes the nature of appellate courts insulates them from the reality of what's on the ground," said Angelica Cogliano, Guzman Curipoma's attorney. "It seemed apparent in oral argument that some of the judges didn't believe me when it came to the horrors of what we've experienced. We couldn't believe it at first either. I hope and pray that if any judge ever really grasped that reality, they wouldn't eviscerate the ability to get relief from it."
Abbott unveiled Operation Lone Star in March 2021, saying he was deploying thousands of Texas Department of Public Safety officers and Texas National Guard troops to the southern border amid a sharp increase in migrants crossing into the United States illegally or to seek asylum.
A central focus of Operation Lone Star was the arrest and detention of border crossers, and Abbott's office last year committed almost $75 million to the effort.
Defense attorneys have argued that those charged are not afforded the rights they should be under the U.S. Constitution. Those arrested sit in jail while their hearings go unscheduled, counsel appointments are delayed and judges often pressure defendants to waive their right to an attorney via documents that are only in English, lawyers have testified.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Travis County cannot take up border arrest cases, appeals court rules