Politics

Texas immigration jail warden with history of abuse toward migrants arrested for murder

A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement told the station that the facility hasn’t held detainees in federal custody since 2019.

According to the San Antonio Express-News, Mike Sheppard was working for the detention center up until this week. “The warden at West Texas Detention Center, Sierra Blanca, TX, has been terminated due to an off-duty incident unrelated to his employment,” said Scott Sutterfield, a spokesperson for LaSalle Corrections.

The Intercept reported that Mike Sheppard had several allegations of abuse leading up to this week’s killing. Some of the allegations against him were so serious that the FBI got involved.

Reports dating back to 2018 found that, as warden, Mike Sheppard was accused of participating in and overseeing the abuse of a group of African migrants and asylum-seekers.

In interviews with legal advocates, 30 men from Somalia described a “week of hell” in which they were pepper-sprayed, beaten, threatened, taunted with racial slurs, and subjected to sexual abuse by officials under Sheppard’s guidance, The Intercept reported.

Sheppard himself also allegedly partook in these incidents and was said to have used racist language, including: “Shut your Black ass up. You don’t deserve nothing. You belong at the back of that cage”; “Boy, I’m going to show you. You’re my bitch”; and “Now you belong to me, boy.”

Despite complaints filed with the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and local authorities, Sheppard still remained employed at the facility.

The complaints against Sheppard are documented in a lengthy 2018 report by a coalition of legal groups, including the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES; Texas A&M University School of Law’s Immigrant Rights Clinic; and University of Texas School of Law’s Immigration Clinic.

“The pattern and practice of abuses LaSalle corrections officers engaged against the group of African detainees over the course of a week amounts to hate crimes, conspiracy against rights, and a deprivation of rights under color of law,” the report said. “The officers used epithets (‘terrorist’ and ‘boy’ and ‘n*’) in combination with beatings, broad and indiscriminate use of pepper spray, and routine and arbitrary use of segregation and other violations to demean and injure the men.”

Violence targeting migrants has been an ongoing issue, and it only increased amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. According to Texas Public Radio, another incident was reported on Wednesday morning when a man identified as 26-year-old Erik Garibaldi shot a migrant in the face. At this time, it is not clear whether the two shootings were connected.

The Democratic Party of Texas issued a statement blaming the incidents on political rhetoric around immigration policy.

“This killing in West Texas is the direct result of Texas Republicans’ violent fearmongering of undocumented migrants: when you continuously use language like ‘invasion’ to describe what is happening at our border, the only logical conclusion is that you want migrants and asylum-seekers to be treated like ‘invaders,’” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party.

Hinojosa noted that this same rhetoric led to the Wal-Mart shooting in El Paso that killed 23 people. During that incident, the shooter said he was “targeting Mexicans.”

“We saw this in El Paso, when a racist monster drove hundreds of miles just to slaughter innocent shoppers at a Wal-Mart, ginned up by the bigoted language that Texas Republicans use to rally their base,” Hinojosa added.

Others also cited Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s language toward immigrants and migrants as a reason for increased anti-immigrant rhetoric in the state. 

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According to Texas Public Radio, 748 migrant deaths have been reported since October 2021, a majority attributable to extreme heat and drownings.




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