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Greg Abbott’s Cruel And Likely Illegal Operation Lone Star Is Resurrecting The Horrors Of The Zero Tolerance Policy

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This summer marks five years since a federal judge ordered the reunification of thousands of children who were ripped from their parents under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. But five years later, hundreds remain separated due to that administration’s rapid deportations of parents to Central America, lack of proper record-keeping that included “no way to link” separated families, and overall hatred of immigrants. Medical professionals would eventually call the policy “torture.”

Despite Trump’s family separation becoming one of the darkest chapters of recent U.S. history, Texas has been tearing apart children and parents at the border as part of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s cruel and likely illegal Operation Lone Star scheme.

Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) officials “have broken up at least two dozen families by detaining fathers on trespassing charges, while the other members — including small children — are transferred to Border Patrol agents, according to spouses and attorneys representing those migrants,” the Houston Chronicle reported on Aug. 2., revealing that some dads had not seen their children since. 

Echoing the same cruelty spoken by agents under the Trump administration, some fathers were reportedly informed that they had seen their children for the final time. U.S. Border Patrol agents “told me that I was never going to see my child again,” said one parent separated by the Trump administration. Texas officers reportedly told dads separated under Operation Lone Star that “they would never see their wife and child again,” said Amrutha Jindal, Chief Defender at Operation Lone Star Indigent Defense.

DPS has since acknowledged the arrest of fathers, “in a process that echoes the widely decried Trump-era policy of family separations,” USA Today confirmed last week. 

Under the multi-billion dollar Operation Lone Star scheme, state officers have targeted Black and Latino migrants on state charges of trespassing on private property. In order for officers to quickly carry this out, they need prior written permission from landowners. They’ve received it without much trouble in the past. That is, until now. 

USA Today reports of local pushback to the agreements. In one instance, a couple that owns a pecan farm along the Rio Grande rescinded permission after finding out they were possibly helping facilitate family separation.

“It’s a really horrible position to be in to see families separated with children crying,” co-owner Magali Urbina told the outlet. “My husband and I both agreed we didn’t want the migrants arrested on the property and DPS separating families.”

It is a policy no decent person would seek to again implement, and GOP presidential candidates are seeking to do exactly that, or have refused to rule it out. Physicians for Human Rights, a humanitarian organization made up of medical professionals, said in a 2020 report that zero tolerance rose “to the level of torture,” and concluded that the policy was a form of enforced disappearance, “which is prohibited under international law in all circumstances.” Distraught parents who begged for information about their children “were not given answers for weeks and months at a time,” the report said. 

While the Biden administration has reunited hundreds of children since January 2021, roughly 1,000 remained separated as of this spring. Because of the Trump administration’s rapid deportations and lack of paper trail, advocates and outreach workers have had to look for parents door-to-door in Central America

Nor do reunifications necessarily equal a happy ending. Physicians for Human Rights said that a Honduran boy reunited with his father threw objects at a psychologist who repeatedly visited the family’s home. The traumatized child was convinced he was going to be taken away again. “It appears his son was afraid of strangers, afraid they will take him away from his father,” the report said. “When his son gets nervous he will pace and suck his thumb.” This is what Abbott wants to restart on a Texas-wide scale.

Lucinda Padilla-Gonzalez, a Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) member who was ripped from her two children under the Trump administration’s policy, said the news coming out of Texas was her “worst nightmare because it is happening again.”

“I’m trying to prevent my kids from watching television because I don’t want them to see that what happened to us is happening to other families in Texas,” she said in a statement from the #WelcomeWithDignity campaign. “I don’t want them to have to relive everything they went through again and again.”  

Marisa Limón Garza, Executive Director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, said Operation Lone Star separations are “unconscionable and must end immediately. The American public knows the devastating impact of these actions by now.”

There is further pushback on Abbott’s policies in the state, too. USA Today said that the Eagle Pass City Council unanimously terminated the agreement that effectively turned a city park into private property so that Texas DPS could carry out arrests. “Several said the attention that has come to the city of about 28,000, that lies 145 miles west of San Antonio, paints the people of Eagle Pass as unfriendly and unwelcoming,” USA Today said in a separate report. One of the community members who has spoken out is Jessie Fuentes, “whose kayaking company cannot operate on the river in the face of the heavy law enforcement presence in the park,” the report said.

“The way we’re being represented in our own community by outsiders just boils my temperature,” he said in USA Today. “You are our elected representatives. You need to stand with us, not against us.”