The Jury Talks Back

5/10/2019

County Attorney Stops To Help Illegal Immigrants Lost In Desert, Subsequently Detained By Authorities

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dana @ 1:13 pm

[guest post by Dana]

For Americans, especially those who reside in states that border Mexico, the issue of illegal immigration continues to be a contentious one. As record numbers of Central Americans make their way to the U.S., border arrests have increased and the Trump administration has begun implementing a more thorough screening of asylum seekers. The administration is also reportedly taking a stronger stance against private citizens who help illegals coming through the difficult terrain of the desert’s migration corridors and provide them with food and water, or with temporary shelter. With that, there is an interesting story about a West Texas county attorney being detained by authorities for being a good Samaritan after helping three young illegal immigrants lost in the middle of nowhere:

The three Salvadoran migrants were a family — Carlos, 22, his brother, Francisco, 20, and their sister, Esmeralda, 18. They had fled their home country years ago and were living with an aunt in Guatemala. Worsening gang violence forced them to leave — two of Carlos’s friends were murdered, and a gang leader wanted Esmeralda to be his girlfriend, according to court documents. The trio headed for the United States and crossed the border in a remote stretch of desert with a group of migrants and smugglers. But Esmeralda became sick and had trouble keeping up.

The others in the group pushed ahead, but her brothers stayed by her side. The three of them became lost as they hiked north, and they ran out of food and water, according to statements they provided to the federal public defender’s office. Esmeralda’s condition had worsened by the time they flagged down Ms. Todd.

She had the siblings get in her car and started to contact friends — one who works for a refugee services nonprofit and another who is a lawyer for the Border Patrol.

Moments later, a sheriff’s deputy from neighboring Presidio County pulled up behind her, lights flashing. The deputy and Ms. Todd know one another, but he was immediately suspicious, she said, asking whether she thought the migrants’ backpacks smelled like dope. The deputy alerted Border Patrol, whose agents read Ms. Todd her rights.

Ms. Todd, who routinely puts misdemeanor lawbreakers behind bars as a county attorney, was put in a holding cell at a nearby Border Patrol station. Her purse and other personal items were confiscated.

“I walk in and a guy says, ‘Are you the driver?’ I said, ‘No, I’m the lady who stopped to help these kids,’” Ms. Todd said. “They seemed to think there was something very nefarious going on, when I literally got flagged down on the side of the road and tried to be a good Samaritan.”

She was held in a large holding cell for about 45 minutes, and then released and driven back to her car, which was still on the side of the highway. She had been detained for a total of about three hours.

Days later, back at work at Marfa City Hall, she was visited at her office by an agent with federal Homeland Security Investigations and a Texas Ranger. The federal agent handed her a search warrant for her phone, and she surrendered it. One of the friends she had texted that night told Ms. Todd that agents had also questioned her and examined her phone.

The three migrants Ms. Todd had helped are now in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in El Paso and could face deportation. “All three remain in ICE custody pending disposition of their immigration cases,” an ICE spokeswoman said in a statement.

Ms. Todd said that she did not understand why she was arrested and detained:

“I honestly don’t feel like I ever did anything wrong: I stopped to help some kids,” said Ms. Todd, 53, who serves as both the city attorney of Marfa, Tex., and the county attorney of Jeff Davis County, an elected position. “It’s been pretty transformative for me, to be perfectly honest. To have devoted my life to public service, and then to be Mirandized, detained and investigated as if I’m a human smuggler. The whole thing was really, really, very surreal. It was like a ‘Twilight Zone.’”

Ms. Todd has not been charged with a crime at this point in time.

As for the ill sister:

According to court records, [Esmeralda] was taken by Border Patrol agents to Big Bend Regional Medical Center in Alpine, Tex., and was treated for four days for starvation, dehydration, infected wounds from cactus spines and rhabdomyolysis, a serious condition that can lead to kidney failure.

The Good Samaritan Act of Texas states:

(a) A person who in good faith administers emergency care is not liable in civil damages for an act performed during the emergency unless the act is wilfully or wantonly negligent[.]

The exceptions appear to be if the supposed Good Samaritan has been wantonly negligent, if there is an expectation of remuneration, or if the Good Samaritan caused the initial harm in the first place that lead to the need for help.

While the Presidio County sheriff, (whose office received the 911 call about a young man on the road needing assistance) told reporters that “Knowingly transporting undocumented individuals is a felony federal offense,” Ms. Todd is committed to working with congressional representatives to exempt good Samaritans from federal prosecution. Jeff Davis County Sheriff Williams Kitts, however, focused on the more immediate picture:

“Harboring is a big jump for them to make in my book,” Sheriff Kitts said of the threatened criminal charges against Ms. Todd. “There’s a human component to this. We’ll let Congress and the politicians fight it out, but if somebody’s hungry or thirsty or needs some help, we’re going to help them.”

And I’ll leave you with two opposing comments from readers at the linked article:

#1 –

Ok I get that she stopped to help them. But I also believe she knew who and what they were. And they are not migrants when they cross the border illegally. They were not looking for asylum. Asylum seekers stop at a legal border crossing and request asylum. They illegally crossed the border into the country. That makes them no different from someone who just robbed a bank or convenience store or broke out of prison and was on the run. She was then phoning family and friends for help. She didnt call for an ambulance. She didnt call police. She knew who they were and what they were doing. And she was not calling authorities. So she was aiding and abetting. I am thankful that such compassion still exists in places in American society and I dont doubt that she was trying to help them and that’s great. But what was her plan if the deputy and border patrol hadn’t shown up? She was clearly not calling law enforcement so was her plan to provide them food and water, maybe shelter and a ride to someplace else where they could safely continue elsewhere into the country? It certainly appears that could have been her intent. And if she did exactly that for an escaped prisoner or someone who just robbed the bank, what would you consider her then and how would you demand her be treated?

#2 –

[Y]our views seem to hinge on the fact that these folks had crossed the border illegally, and therefore broke a law. It might be good to remember that they had been separated from the larger group they were with, and were essentially lost. It’s reasonable to assume that they just didn’t happen to come across a border crossing station, and were understandably more concerned with getting their sister the medical attention she so badly needed. It also seems like you hold a very black and white view on morality. I think being human is to realize that while laws in our societies can seem black and white, humanity does not fall into those extreme camps. While illegally entering a country because you are on the run from violence in your home is against the law, it is fallacious to equivocate between that and robbing a bank. Maybe try to put yourself in their shoes. If I felt unsafe in my home, the people around me being murdered, I would hope beyond hope that the global community would be sympathetic to my suffering and want to help me. Remember that no one wants to be a refugee.

It’s an interesting story because at the end of the day, in spite of her efforts to help, Ms. Todd, chief legal officer of Jeff Davis County is the law.

–Dana

13 Comments »

  1. I live in West Texas and this story has problems:

    1. No one, especially a woman alone, would stop on these desolate roads to pick up anyone — let alone a teenage boy or a man — late at night.

    2. But they would call the authorities to report seeing someone, which is exactly what another single female driver did. That is why the authorities went there and found Todd and the migrants.

    3. Todd’s story has conveniently morphed into helping save a dying teenage girl. That isn’t what she said when it first happened. She said then she was trying to get the migrants asylum.

    4. That makes sense with what happened, because Todd didn’t call emergency or law enforcement authorities to get help for “stranded, dying migrants.” The link sounds like she called other lawyers who may be involved with asylum services.

    5. Another report shows Todd was “trying to leave the scene with them in her vehicle.” If she wanted to get them medical help or food/water, why not hand them over to the law enforcement vehicle or Border Patrol? These roads aren’t busy, especially at night. It is virtually impossible not to notice other vehicles as she was leaving.

    West Texans help people because any one of us could be stranded alone and need help. But we don’t help in stupid or illegal ways. West Texans would not charge someone sincerely trying to help, but this story doesn’t add up.

    Comment by DRJ — 5/10/2019 @ 3:24 pm

  2. In my point number 4, “link” refers to the NY Times link/report that discusses who Todd called.

    Comment by DRJ — 5/10/2019 @ 3:30 pm

  3. Of course, West Texans can do stupid and illegal things, just like anyone. But IMO this isn’t what you would see if someone were really trying to help sick, stranded people in desperate need.

    Comment by DRJ — 5/10/2019 @ 3:35 pm

  4. As I said on the front side: It was absolutely foolish for a single woman to have invited three strangers into her car in the middle of nowhere at night, especially when two of them were males. Why not call 911, or ask for immediate assistance from her Border Patrol lawyer friend or the refugee non-profit she called? The report said that “moments later” (after she pulled away with the three individuals in her car) she was flagged down by a Presidio County officer. Although as reported, he didn’t seem to have a sense of urgency regarding the health situation of the girl.

    Also, I would have wanted to help too – this I would have called 911. That she didn’t makes me suspect a different motive, or one along with helping with medical aid.

    Comment by Dana — 5/10/2019 @ 4:14 pm

  5. Maybe there was no urgency because she seemed fine and no one told him she had a medical problem. With all the migrant problems in that area, any hospital would bend over backwards to care for her, and yet it seems all they could find was “starvation, dehydration, infected wounds from cactus spines and rhabdomyolysis.” In other words, everything (**) you expect from hiking for days.

    ** Rhabdomyolysis can be caused by overexertion.

    Comment by DRJ — 5/10/2019 @ 4:50 pm

  6. The important point is that she told the local media right after it happened that she was trying to get them asylum. That is not part of being a Good Samaritan under Texas law.

    Comment by DRJ — 5/10/2019 @ 4:51 pm

  7. Correction: The media reported local law enforcement said she wanted to get them asylum. I suspect the problem here is you have two credible witnesses telling different stories. Hence the investigation into her contacts and probably her past history.

    Comment by DRJ — 5/10/2019 @ 5:01 pm

  8. According to this (and yes, I know, it’s Truthout, but the writer is a resident of Brownsville and has written about border issues for a long time. Perhaps a West Texas commenter is familiar with her?)

    Anyway, here is what she has written:

    They fled the country together, Esmeralda told The Appeal, because “a leader of the Calle 18 gang in our neighborhood decided that he wanted me to be his woman. I refused. My brothers refused. In February, I was walking down the street and I was thrown into a car. The gang leader was in it. He pulled a machete on me and touched me in every part of my body.”

    Esmeralda screamed and a passerby on the street told the gang leader to let her go. She escaped. But the leader then “beat one of my brothers and said that if he and my other brother didn’t join the gang and help kill people — and if they didn’t hand me over to the leader — they would be killed and so would I.”

    Within hours after these alleged assaults, Esmeralda said she and her brothers threw some belongings together and fled from El Salvador in the dead of night. They moved so fast that they did not even tell their mother they were leaving. They headed through Guatemala and Mexico and reached the southern U.S. border.

    Esmeralda was the only woman among the 10 people, including her brothers, who crossed the Rio Grande at Presidio, Texas. The group began hiking, and as they advanced northward, Esmeralda said, her legs started hurting her terribly. She had trouble keeping up, and after six days, the group abandoned her, with the exception of her brothers. After that, they had no food or water at all, and Esmeralda’s condition worsened. She could no longer walk. She felt certain that she was dying.

    Of course the story could also be a fabrication.

    Comment by Dana — 5/10/2019 @ 6:47 pm

  9. IMHO, DRJ nailed it. Anyone encountering a person in medical distress who calls only lawyers is not on the level.

    Something stinks here.

    I’m also highly skeptical if the NYT reporting, because it’s the NYT. About the only thing I trust them to do is publish anti-semitic cartoons.

    Sounds to me like she may well have been aiding and abetting fugitives. And that’s a felony. As the county attorney, that’s even worse. Also, if DRJ’s link is right, the deputy says she was trying to get them asylum. That means she knows there were fugitives, and was transporting them. I hope she’s prosecuted.

    Also, highway 17 runs between Marfa and Ft. Davis. That puts it over 50 miles as the crow flies from the nearest border, and would require crossing at least one highway to get there from anywhere on the border. That means the illegals were not seeking asylum, they were trying to enter illegally.

    It’s been reported that the police had already been called by another person,so what I’d like to know is, did the county attorney have access to the dispatch calls?

    I have no objection at all to her being arrested, given the apparent facts. I do however object to her being kicked loose so fast (reportedly at midnight) whereas a regular citizen would be locked up all night, at least.

    Comment by Arizona CJ — 5/10/2019 @ 7:03 pm

  10. I think it’s safe to say that most people’s reflexive reaction to a situation like this would be to immediately call 911. Full stop.

    Comment by Dana — 5/10/2019 @ 7:22 pm

  11. I agree, Dana.

    The exception would be if they themselves were involved in the crime.

    Comment by Arizona CJ — 5/11/2019 @ 12:10 am

  12. Just saw your other comment, Dana.
    Presideo, Texas? Hrmm. So, they had to walk about 80 miles to get to highway 17 between Marfa and Ft. Davis, basically following the route of highway 67 from Presidio, then through Marfa. All while looking for help. I’d find it slightly more plausible if they’d said they’d made the trek because they really, really wanted to see the Marfa Lights (a well known local reputed phenomenon).

    This story does not add up. Based on that, plus the overwhelming convenience of it, I find it doubtful the story about why they left is any more truthful.

    Comment by Arizona CJ — 5/11/2019 @ 12:31 am

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