San Antonio Police Chief Assailed for Releasing Immigrants Found in Semitrailer

January 11, 2018; San Antonio Current

City officials are backing San Antonio Police Chief William McManus in his decision to release 12 people who were found in the semitrailer, including his decision to release the immigrants to the local Catholic Charities chapter. The incident occurred on December 23rd, and since then, McManus has said there was no reason to arrest them. They were witnesses, or perhaps victims, but had not obviously broken any laws—and that he “broke no protocols.” McManus said, “I did exactly what my chiefly prerogatives allowed me to do.” The driver, however, was arrested and charged with human trafficking.

McManus says the truck crossed no international borders and that he had no need or right to inquire about the passengers’ citizenship status or run a background check on them because he had no substantive indication they had committed any crime. In fact, he says, there was a federal agent from Homeland Security present throughout the investigation who could have intervened but did not.

“The San Antonio Police Department had no legal basis to hold [the witnesses],” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg. “The city could have faced legal liability if the police had held them.”

“There were no SAPD protocols broken,” McManus said. “[Homeland Security] was on the scene and they had every opportunity to what they needed to do. They weren’t denied access. Why they didn’t take anyone into custody, I don’t know. But we handled the prosecution of the smuggling incident under the state statute.”

But the lieutenant governor has called for an investigation into McManus’ treatment of the case, which the attorney general’s office has begun, under Texas’ Senate Bill 4, which came into effect last September and slaps fines on cites for implementing sanctuary city measures, such as those that instruct local law enforcement to not cooperate with federal immigration officers conducting random stop-and-searches to determine immigrant status. San Antonio is one of the cities that sued to block the law over the summer. Alex Zielinski writes:

It’s hard to know exactly what made McManus decide to hand the case over to state courts rather than the feds. Perhaps it was informed by the last time San Antonio was hit with a major smuggling case—in which federal agents didn’t allow the passengers to apply for immigrant protection under a certain visa granted for crime witnesses who comply with the police. Instead, the feds deported at least seven potential key witnesses. In that July case, McManus received a wave of criticism from the immigrant advocacy community. Now, he’s getting heat from the other side.

That case, which occurred only five months before this one, resulted in 10 deaths among the immigrants being transported.—Ruth McCambridge