Migrants indicted in Texas over alleged border breach after judge dismissed charges

EL PASO, Texas — A grand jury in Texas on Tuesday indicted more than 140 migrants on charges of rioting over an alleged mass attempt to cross the US-Mexico border, a day after a judge dismissed the cases.

No injuries were reported during the alleged April 12 breach in El Paso, which authorities said began when someone in the group cut through a barbed wire barrier. Mass arrests also followed a separate episode in the Texas border city in March.

On Monday, a district judge dismissed charges against those arrested this month, ruling there was insufficient probable cause. A public defender representing the migrants had argued there was not enough evidence and accused authorities of trying to make headlines.

β€œThe citizens of El Paso, through the grand jury, essentially overruled the judge’s ruling and found probable cause to believe the riots occurred,” El Paso County District Attorney Bill Hicks told reporters Tuesday .

Kelli Childress-Diaz, the El Paso public defender representing the 141 defendants, said she was not surprised.

β€œI imagine they had that prepared before the hearing even started yesterday,” she said.

The arrests have drawn more attention to Texas’ expanding operations along the border, where Republican Governor Greg Abbott has introduced a series of aggressive measures in the name of curbing illegal border crossings. After the arrests in March, Abbott responded by saying he had sent 700 additional National Guard members to El Paso.

Hicks, who appointed Abbott to the position in 2022, said that while it is not common for a grand jury to indict crimes, he thought it was “fair” to present the cases to them. In total, Hicks estimated they had arrested more than 350 people on rioting charges since March.

If convicted, the defendants each face up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Those in jail still face federal charges, and Hicks said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents can still pick them up from jail to process them for an illegal entry violation.

β€œIt turns my stomach that these people are nothing more than, you know, political coins in a bet that some of our government officials have been hedging,” Childress-Diaz told The Associated Press.