El Paso DA’s Request for $100,000 in Legal Fees in Limbo for Now

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February 25, 2024

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(EL PASO, Texas) –  The El Paso County Board of Commissioners declined to act Jan. 22 on a $100,000 request from the city’s district attorney for legal representation in a lawsuit brought by the county and other plaintiffs to block a Texas law allowing state law enforcement to detain migrants crossing the US-Mexico border.

 The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, American Gateways, and El Paso County are suing El Paso District Attorney Bill Hicks and Steve McGraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety in the lawsuit, to block Texas Senate Bill 4 from going into effect on March 5, according to the state legislature website. The bill is an effort by the Texas legislature to curb illegal entry from Mexico while granting law enforcement officials the capability to arrest migrants who have entered the state illegally. 

“As the District Attorney for the 34th Judicial District, District Attorney Hicks ‘represents the state in all criminal cases before every district court having jurisdiction in El Paso County”’and ‘represents the state in all criminal cases pending in the inferior courts having jurisdiction in El Paso County,’ which will include charges brought under S.B. 4. Tex. Gov’t Code §§ 43.120(b), (c),” according to the lawsuit.  

The lawsuit comes after 427,471 migrant encounters were reported in the El Paso sector alone for the 2023 fiscal year, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. The sector consists of El Paso County, Fort Hancock, and the New Mexico southern border. In March of 2021, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott launched “Operation Lone Star,” which uses Texas Department of Public Safety troopers to stop the entry of illegal immigration, according to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission website.

At the Jan. 22  meeting, Commissioner Iliana Holguin asked Hicks if he had reached out to the governor’s office to see if they could provide legal counsel on his behalf. Hicks said that the chief general counsel from the governor’s office referred him to the attorney general. He informed county commissioners that he feels his situation is different compared to the representation McGraw will be receiving for the lawsuit but did not go into detail as to why.

Commissioner David Stout asked if Hicks requested the state for funding for him to hire legal counsel since he is a state employee. Hicks said, “The only mechanism for representation to include funding was through the attorney general’s office, anything else would be back on the county.” Stout turned to County Judge Ricardo Samaniego and said, “And that’s where the politics comes in.”

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