UPDATE: EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The survivors of a Sept. 27 shooting that killed a migrant and sent another one to the hospital with a gunshot wound have been released from the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The two victims were part of a large group that stopped at a water reservoir a few miles south of Sierra Blanca, Texas. Michael Sheppard, a former detention center warden, allegedly shot at them while hunting for game. Sheppard, 60, and his twin brother Mark, who was driving the vehicle they were riding in, are being held on charges of manslaughter and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
“We are seeking a U visa certification for all the victim witnesses we are serving. We are mindful they can be supportive of this investigation, and they are in fact survivors of this incident,” said Marisa Limon Garza, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.
A U visa allows victims of crimes like trafficking or domestic abuse who are unauthorized immigrants to remain in the country if they are helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.
Las Americas is representing seven of the migrants. They were being held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at two El Paso-area detention facilities, but were released Monday evening, Las Americas said.
Limon said her organization is expecting the migrants to be able to remain in the United States for now.
Border Report reached out to ICE for the status of the detainees and is awaiting a response.
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Las Americas and other advocacy organizations also are working with law enforcement to ensure the migrants remain safe from harm. Michael Sheppard is a former warden at a privately-run Sierra Blanca detention center.
The fatal shooting of Jesús Iván Sepúlveda Martínez and the wounding of Brenda Berenice Casias Carrillo came amid growing frustration with record numbers of unauthorized migrant entries into the United States. Advocates and some Democratic House members characterized the shooting as an attack on migrants and called for a hate-crime investigation.
The Texas Department of Public Safety is investigating the fatal shooting. A DPS spokesman on Monday said the investigation is ongoing and no new information is available.
“It’s just really jarring to hear about a group of people who were literally about to nourish their bodies by getting some water and were shot as if they were animals,” said Melissa Lopez, executive director of Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services. “I think it says a lot as to where we are as a country, particularly in the Southwest region. It’s really scary to think there are still people who will treat other human beings as less than human, as cattle as an animal.”
She called on migrants making the long and dangerous journey from their home countries to the United States to remain vigilant even after reaching U.S. soil.
“When people have arrived at our borders there is this idea that the United States is humanitarian and will receive people with open arms. Unfortunately, when incidents like this happen, they see the reality of what it is to come to the U.S. and it is a very harsh reality,” Lopez said. “But I would also say there is a very strong community that is ready to do what we can to make sure people are safe. We want to do whatever we can to support them and to continue to welcome them.”