A free ride or de-facto deportation? Was it legal for a Texas sheriff to drive migrants to the border?

Kinney Co. Sheriff Brad Coe said federal authorities wouldn’t immediately take 4 suspected undocumented immigrants

Sheriff Brad Coe said he will do it again if the opportunity arises.

BRACKETTVILLE, Texas – As some Texas officials decry what they see as a lack of federal help in the face of an “invasion” of undocumented immigrants, one sheriff on the border appeared to take matters into his own hands last week.

Kinney County Sheriff Brad Coe said at a news conference Tuesday that following a wreck “a couple of days ago,” federal authorities wouldn’t take custody of four suspected undocumented immigrants until they had been checked out by a doctor. Coe said the four people weren’t hurt and had declined medical attention, and he didn’t want to take up “four or five hours” of his deputies’ time waiting for them to be examined.

“So I made a command decision. I took it upon myself to offer them a ride back to where they can get home safely and securely. And if I have to, I’ll do it again,” Coe said.

“We transported four back to the port of entry in Mexico so they could return home. There was no formal deportation. It’s just we put them in a truck and took them home,” he said later at the news conference.

Immigration attorneys say Coe’s actions, which several media outlets reported on in the past week, may have exceeded his authority.

“That’s sounds to me like he drove them to the port of entry and dropped them off and said, ‘that’s where you got to go,’ and ‘that’ being Mexico. That sounds to me like he forcefully made them leave the country,” Lance Curtright, a San Antonio-based immigration attorney, told KSAT 12 News.

The implementation and enforcement of immigration laws are the federal government’s purview, Curtright said.

“Only the federal government can deport. The state of Texas has no business and no lawful authority to do that. And that’s well-settled law,” he said.

Erica Schommer, a clinical professor of law at St. Mary’s University School of Law, says if someone asked for a ride home, the sheriff could do that, but it would be problematic to do it in his official capacity.

The real question, she said, is the perspective of the four people who were taken to the port of entry.

“If they believed they were not free to go, then that’s a problem. Because, again, the sheriff only has authority to arrest or detain an individual if it is to enforce a state or local law,” Schommer said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas also slammed the Kinney County Sheriff’s Office for the the ride and has requested records related to any policies or instances of transporting migrants to Mexico.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Coe said he only has six full-time deputies, a school resource officer, and 10 part-time deputes as part of his office. Meanwhile, he said the number of undocumented migrants coming through his border county has exploded compared to last year.

“When Texas joined the union, part of that agreement was they would protect our border and they are not doing that,” Coe said.

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About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.