The Trump administration is doing everything in its power to hurt immigrants, both citizens and undocumented, leaving even the most well-intentioned of volunteers at risk for retribution.
One of those Good Samaritans, Teresa Todd, was arrested in February when she attempted to aid a Salvadoran family fleeing gang violence, the New York Times reported on Friday. Todd, the city attorney of Marfa, TX, and the county attorney of Jeff Davis County, was driving home when a young man flagged her down off the side of the highway to help him and his two siblings.
One of the siblings, 18-year-old Esmeralda, had become sick on their trip with a smuggler, and the family had fallen behind and gotten lost, and were running out of food and water. Todd told the Times that she remembered Esmeralda was having trouble walking and needed immediate medical attention, so she told the three siblings to get into her car to get out of the cold while she began calling and texting for help.
Todd was contacting someone who works for a refugee services nonprofit and another friend who is a lawyer for the Border Patrol when a sheriff’s deputy from a neighboring county pulled up behind her with his lights flashing. The deputy, who knew Todd, asked her if she thought the migrants’ backpacks smelled like “dope,” and alerted the Border Patrol.
“They asked me to step behind my car, and the supervisor came and started Mirandizing me,” Todd told the Times. “And then he says that I could be found guilty of transporting illegal aliens, and I’m, like, ‘What are you talking about?”
She was in a holding cell for 45 minutes that night, and detained for three hours total. Days later, federal agents appeared at her office at Marfa City Hall with a search warrant for her phone, which they kept for 53 days. The family Todd tried to help are still in ICE custody in El Paso, possibly facing deportation. Todd hasn’t been charged with a crime, though a spokesman for the Border Patrol told the Times that the arrest is still “an active case.”
“Further investigation determined that Todd had picked up three undocumented individuals who had been walking on the roadway and was attempting to leave the scene with them in her vehicle,” Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez told Marfa Public Radio in March. “Knowingly transporting undocumented individuals is a felony federal offense.”
Kenneth Magidson, a former top federal prosecutor in Houston and in the South Texas border region from 2011 to 2017, told the Times that the Trump administration has started prosecuting people who leave out food and water for people attempting to cross the border.
Taken with what happened to Todd, who then, under these conditions, can be expected to help assist sick and dying people looking for a drink of water, medical assistance, or a drive to a Border Patrol station without potentially serious consequences? Even someone of remarkable privilege like Todd—a white, elected attorney—is treated harshly.
Because without Todd, Esmeralda could have died: court records show she was taken to Big Bend Regional Medical Center in Alpine, TX, by Border Patrol, where she was treated for four days for starvation, dehydration, infected wounds from cactus spines, and rhabdomyolysis, a muscle injury syndrome that can lead to kidney failure.
Truly, no good deed goes unpunished.