A Texas Attorney Was Arrested and Detained for Helping Three Young Migrants on the Side of the Road

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On the night of Feb. 27, Teresa Todd listened as a Border Patrol agent read off her Miranda rights, something intimately familiar to her as the city attorney for Marfa, Texas, as well as the county attorney for Jeff Davis County. Except this time, she was the accused, and she wasn’t sure what she had done.

Earlier that evening, a trio of young Central American migrants waved her down while she was driving on a West Texas interstate. All three—Carlos, Francisco, and Esmeralda—were limping, she says, suffering from exhaustion and dehydration after making the hazardous trek across the southern border. But one looked gravely ill.

Esmeralda “could barely stand,” Todd tells Reason. “The color of her skin, the way she looked, the way her eyes were glossed over, I literally thought she was going to pass out at any minute. It was very clear she needed immediate medical attention.”

She invited the three to warm up in her car while she phoned for help, calling, among others, a Border Patrol lawyer. A sheriff’s deputy soon pulled up behind her. Agents from Border Patrol followed, who then Mirandized her, put her in the back of their vehicle, and told her she could be charged “with transporting or harboring illegal aliens,” according to Todd.

Baffled, she tells Reason that she was “just trying to help,” particularly as Esmeralda appeared decreasingly lucid.

Upon arriving at the Border Patrol station, Todd was ordered to remove her jewelry and surrender her purse. She was then locked in a holding cell for 45 minutes and eventually driven back to her car late that night. About a week later, a federal agent showed up to her office and confiscated her phone; it was not returned to her for 53 days. She remains the subject of an active federal investigation.

“I lost 10 pounds the first week from the stress,” Todd says.

This small saga is one of many to spring from the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration, which has seen the government treat good Samaritans like criminals. Four women were sentenced last month on misdemeanor charges after leaving jugs of water and cans of beans for migrants in Arizona’s Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. Another good Samaritan, Scott Warren, goes on trial later this month, accused of giving two undocumented immigrants food and water as well as letting them stay with him for two nights. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

Todd’s case is ongoing, and she doesn’t know when—or if—she’ll see a suitable resolution, as Border Patrol “has not been forthcoming with any information.” So she’s trying to tackling the root of the issue, which she sees as the federal government’s encroachment on Texas state law.

“The Texas Penal Code provides defenses to prosecution for Necessity, Defense of Third Person(s), and Protection of Life or Health,” according to Todd, meaning that the accused could viably defend themselves against similar charges by proving that they were helping someone in need. “In this and in other ways, I think that Texas state law is more fair and forward-looking.” She has already reached out to her district’s congressman, Rep. Will Hurd (R–Texas), to collaborate on a way forward.

“The longer I live in Jeff Davis County, the more libertarian I get,” says Todd, who is an elected official.

The three migrants remain in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody “pending disposition of their immigration cases,” according to a statement from the agency. Originally from El Salvador, court documents say the siblings fled an aunt’s house in Guatemala after a gang leader expressed that he wanted to be in a relationship with Esmeralda and two of Carlos’s friends were murdered by gang members, according to The New York Times.

Esmeralda was eventually treated for starvation, dehydration, infected wounds inflicted by cactus spines, as well as rhabdomyolysis, a potentially fatal condition that can lead to kidney failure, The New York Times reports. After arriving at the Border Patrol station on Feb. 27, Todd says she pleaded with officials to take Esmeralda to a hospital, as “she was not doing well at all.” They finally conceded.

Looking back on that night, Todd says her next call would have been to the Jeff Davis County Sheriff to request emergency medical assistance. “Then Border Patrol came, and I couldn’t use my phone anymore,” she tells Reason. “So I didn’t get to make that call.”


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