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Jocelyn Nungaray’s murder prompts Abbott, Hidalgo to debate immigration policies

HOUSTON (AP) — As 12-year-old Jocelyn Nungaray, found dead in a north Houston creek last week, is laid to rest Thursday afternoon, her death continues to spark national outrage and has evolved into a dispute among Texas leaders over the nation’s immigration policies.

The latest public outcry came from the state’s top official, who condemned the leader of Texas’ largest county just one day before Nungaray’s funeral. On Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo a “con artist,” referencing her remarks about the two Venezuelan-born men charged with capital murder for the Houston girl’s death. In her remarks at the commissioner’s court, Hidalgo pointed to former President Donald Trump and Republicans for failing to reach an agreement with Democrats. Both men were given $10 million bonds this week and are in custody. Harris County prosecutors are still determining if charges should be upgraded to the death penalty, a move Abbott has already suggested.

“What a con artist. The murderers crossed the border illegally with the Biden administration’s permission. They were set free to roam the country. Biden did NOTHING to detain these criminals. He is an accomplice to this crime. SECURE THE BORDER. PERIOD,” Abbott wrote on X.

Abbott’s response referenced an interview with Hidalgo on Tuesday, where she discussed the case, saying, “Evil happens regardless of immigration status.” She added, “When the former President decided that he did not want Biden to have a win on immigration, he told his party to pull out of that agreement. So blaming things on the current immigration policy is absolutely political, and it really breaks my heart that people would politicize the sadness of that tragedy.”

When reporters asked her if she believed Harris County is a “place where immigrants come because of lax enforcement of laws,” Hidalgo expressed her frustration that the case was being used to discuss immigration policy. “To me, it hurts even more that they’re being used as pawns in this fight over immigration that doesn’t even exist because Biden and McConnell agree it’s just that Trump won’t let them move it forward,” she added.

Afterward, FOX26 reporter Greg Groogan pressed Hidalgo further, asking if she was “politicizing” the case by pointing to the opposite party. Hidalgo responded, “I think I answered the question; this is about Jocelyn; this is about her family. Again, the Biden Administration reached an agreement with leader McConnell to address this, but this is not about immigration. I’m not going to feed into that.”

Hidalgo’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Nungaray’s death sent shockwaves across the nation due to its gruesome details. She was found in a bayou near her home on June 16 after sneaking out of her family’s apartment. Police said she walked to a convenience store, was on the phone with her boyfriend, and was later approached by two men asking for directions. Her body was found under a bridge on 400 Rankin Rd, where police said the men tied her, assaulted her, took off her pants, and then strangled her before dumping her body in the nearby creek.

Her funeral on Thursday is set to be attended by her family, the Houston community, and local elected officials, including Mayor John Whitmire.