AUSTIN, Texas (HPD) — One migrant is dead, another is injured and at least seven are languishing in detention centers three weeks after two brothers allegedly shot them in the Texas desert, thinking they were boars. as they said.
The defendants, Michael and Mark Sheppard, 60, two twin brothers who worked with local police forces, however, were initially released after posting bail of half a million dollars. They are accused of involuntary manslaughter.
The episode caused shock among survivors and activists, who say their detention violates Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) directives, according to which the fact that the migrants were crime victims who cooperated with authorities in deciding whether or not to release them.
“It is a hate crime that occurred immediately after they entered the United States,” said Zoe Bowman, an attorney with the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, which represents the seven detainees.
Michael Sheppard, who was the director of the West Texas Detention Facility, where he was accused of abuse, and his brother Mark, who worked at the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office, were recently rearrested and charged with aggravated assault, using a weapon. lethal, in connection with the September 27 incident.
The sheriff’s office did not say where they were being held or why they were initially released on parole. The matter is being investigated by the Texas Rangers, a unit of the state Department of Public Safety.
Migrants who cross the border between Mexico and the United States are often victims of crimes such as human trafficking. Most of these crimes, however, occur on the Mexican side of the border. An episode such as this one, which leaves no room for doubt, in which migrants are victims of a highly publicized crime on US soil and charges are filed against specific individuals, may offer a rare example of a case in which protection is provided through a visa to migrants who are victims of a crime,” Bowman said.
Yet despite an August 2021 ICE directive encouraging the release of crime victims while their visa petitions are processed, these migrants remain in detention, Bowman said.
Six of them are in the El Paso Processing Center (an ICE detention center) and the seventh is in the custody of the Marshals Service and is expected to be transferred to the West Texas Detention Facility, the problematic detention center once directed by Michael Sheppard.
“It gives the impression that they don’t prioritize the needs of these people when arranging for their detention,” Bowman said.
ICE officials did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.
The migrants told authorities they were drinking water at a pond in Sierra Blanca, south of El Paso, in the hot Chihuahuan Desert, when two individuals — identified in court as the Sheppard brothers — arrived in a pickup truck. The migrants said they tried to hide.
Mark Sheppard told investigators that he and his brother were out hunting and thought they saw a javelin (female boar). So they opened fire.
“Mark Sheppard told us he used binoculars and saw a ‘black butt’ and thought it was a javelin,” says a report filed in court.
The migrants, instead, told authorities that the individuals in the van yelled and swore at them in Spanish, goading them out of their hiding places, and hit the gas as they backed up. When the migrants came out of hiding, the excited driver got out of the vehicle and shot them twice.
Jesús Iván Sepúlveda was shot and died. Brenda Berenice Casias Carrillo was hit in the stomach and is in serious condition.
Silvia Carrillo, the injured woman’s aunt, told the Associated Press that her niece had told her via WhatsApp that the group was beginning an exhausting desert crossing from Mexico and were turning off their cell phones. When they talked again two days later, Casias told her that they had been shot and that she was injured and she thought she might die.
Carrillo told her niece to call 911 for help. The group of 13 migrants included Carrillo’s two children, another niece and a son-in-law. Casias told him that they were all fine, but that another person who was with them (Sepúlveda, a 27-year-old man from Durango) had died.
“I felt like I was dying. She was desperate and I thought the worst,” Carrillo stated.
When authorities arrived responding to the 911 call, Casias was taken to a hospital and the other survivors were questioned by federal and immigration officials.
His testimony led to the arrest of the Sheppard brothers.
The witnesses were then taken into ICE custody.
On October 7, Carrillo said that he had spoken with Casias again, this time from the hospital. His niece seemed weak, although she said that she was getting better and that she should have another operation.
Casias is stable and improving. He has some legal protection, his attorney, Marysol Castro of El Paso Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, said Tuesday. She didn’t want to go into details because Casio fears for his safety ever since he found out the Sheppard brothers had been released.
Bowman indicated that he seeks visas for migrants who are victims of crimes and that the process could take months.
He has also requested, unsuccessfully so far, that the migrants be released and placed with sponsors. That decision is at the discretion of ICE.
John Sandweg, a lawyer who was director of ICE during the Barack Obama administration, said that the fact that migrants are witnesses to a crime can push authorities to keep them in custody, so that they are on hand when they have to testify in court. judgment.
He admitted, however, that “there is no good reason” for them to remain in detention.
“The reality is that study after study after study and ICE’s own data indicate that alternatives to detention work,” said Sandweg, who argued that the system “is in dire need of reform.”
Carrillo, meanwhile, said that she and the relatives of the other survivors hope to know what will happen to their loved ones in the country where they sought a better life and demanded that the accused be brought to justice.
“I want justice to be done with my niece and with Jesus, the man who died,” Carrillo said.
Jake Bleiberg (from Dallas) and Paul Weber (Austin, Texas) contributed to this report.