El Paso Judge Overturns Riot Charges Against 140 Migrants

 April 23, 2024

A county judge in El Paso dismissed 140 cases against migrants previously charged with riot participation, citing insufficient grounds for their arrest.

In an unexpected turn of events, Judge Ruben Morales of the El Paso County Court at Law 7 found no probable cause for the detention of these migrants involved in a border-crossing incident on April 12, 2024.

The Daily Caller reported that the migrants were accused of cutting through concertina wire in El Paso’s Lower Valley, resulting in what the Texas National State Guard described as a pullback due to riotous behavior.

Details of the Incident and Legal Turnaround

This legal outcome affects 140 out of over 300 migrants who were part of the incident. The initial charges defined their actions as collectively riotous. However, the affidavits provided failed to detail individual acts or name witnessing agents, leading to broader scrutiny over the justification of these arrests.

According to Judge Morales, the affidavits reviewed did not convincingly demonstrate why these individuals should continue to be detained under charges of riot participation.

The El Paso County Chief Public Defender, Kelli Childress, criticized the mass arrest, likening it to arresting a whole line of concert attendees because of a single individual’s misconduct near the front.

Kelli Childress remarked that beyond being poorly justified, these charges seemed to target and distress the migrant group unnecessarily. In contrast, Assistant D.A. Jennifer Vandenbosch argued that by partaking in the unlawful crossing, the migrants knowingly involved themselves in riotous conduct.

The Implications of the Dismissed Charges

Despite the dismissals, this judicial decision does not preempt the possibility of future charges by the local district attorney's office. Furthermore, federal immigration authorities have placed detainer requests on the implicated migrants, necessitating a maximum two-day hold in jail before their transfer to federal custody.

This year’s significant uptick in unauthorized U.S. border crossings, with the Congressional Budget Office reporting over three million in fiscal 2023 alone, adds a broader context to this event. It underscores the ongoing challenges at the border and raises questions about the appropriate handling and processing of such cases.

What follows this ruling may set important precedents for how similar cases are approached in the future, balancing the enforcement of border laws with the fair treatment of individuals. With El Paso continuing to be a focal point in the border crisis, this court decision marks a critical juncture in the discussion on migration and justice.

Here is what Judge Ruben Morales stated concerning the lack of probable cause:

After reviewing the affidavit, I don’t believe that exists. I don’t believe there is probable cause for these individuals to continue to be detained for the offense of riot participation.

The unfolding scenario in El Paso indeed mirrors numerous aspects of the broader nationwide debate about immigration enforcement and the rights of migrants. Both sides of the political and ideological spectrum will watch closely how this balance of justice and border security continues to evolve.


The dismissal of charges against 140 migrants by Judge Ruben Morales has stirred various responses reflecting the complexities of immigration policy and law enforcement. This case underscores the ongoing challenges and debates surrounding the management of the U.S.-Mexico border, posing essential questions about legal standards and human rights in the context of national security and migration.

About Victor Winston

Victor is a freelance writer and researcher who focuses on national politics, geopolitics, and economics.

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