HISD teacher arrested at Texas-Mexico border on human smuggling charges

Brandan Gracia was arrested on April 2 near Kinney County and charged with four counts of human smuggling. 

Brandan Gracia was arrested on April 2 near Kinney County and charged with four counts of human smuggling.

Kinney County Sherriff's Office

A teacher for the Houston Independent School District was arrested earlier this month near the Texas-Mexico border when authorities said they found four migrants in the teacher's car.

Police say the man who was arrested, Brandan Gracia, was driving to Houston April 2 when he was stopped by officials on Las Moras Road because of an unspecified traffic violation. In a Facebook post, officials with the Kinney County Sheriff's Office said deputies from Galveston County found four migrants in the car with Gracia.

The sheriff's office also said Gracia had been in possession of an ID badge from Patrick Henry Middle School when he was stopped.

A Houston Independent School District representative told the Chronicle Gracia is employed by the district, but it was not immediately clear how long Gracia has been affiliated with the district. A LinkedIn page appearing to belong to Gracia said he worked at the school for a year and 10 months.

The Houston Federation of Teachers said Gracia is a teacher assigned to Patrick Henry Middle School but is not a member of the union.

The Kinney County Sherrif's Office later deleted the Facebook post, with a county spokesperson saying it was because the initial post had misspelled Gracia's name. They also said the four passengers were turned over to Border Patrol and Gracia was charged in connection with four counts of human smuggling.

A message sent to Gracia on Facebook was not returned.

According to the Kinney County spokesperson, the location Gracia was arrested is near an area that is considered a hotspot for human smuggling.

"People trying to avoid law enforcement will frequently hop on and off trains in that area," said the spokesperson. "It's also one of the spots DPS patrolled most heavily in the early days of Operation Lone Star."

Operation Lone Star was launched by Governor Abbott in 2021 to respond to a rise in migrants crossing the border. Abbott recently tweeted about Gracia's arrest, alleging Gracia was aiding drug cartels and that the current Texas legislative session will seek a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison for human smuggling. Authorities had not released any information confirming any alleged connection to drug cartels.

More than $4 billion in taxpayer money has been pumped into the initiative known as Operation Lone Star, with state leaders borrowing hundreds of millions from the state’s beleaguered prison system and other agencies in the name of border security.

But Operation Lone Star is also sweeping up hundreds of low-income people who are U.S. citizens into a court system that does not have the resources to handle them — causing such severe procedural delays that one Republican judge agreed to let numerous felony defendants out of jail on cashless or low-cash bonds last year, the Houston Chronicle reported .