Facing Litigation Over Abuses, Abbott Disowns His Signature Policy
Texas Governor Greg Abbott really has some nerve. For more than two years, the Republican has touted his Operation Lone Star scheme as a “historic border mission,” spending billions in taxpayer dollars to in part target and arrest migrants seeking new lives in the U.S. These migrants have been overwhelmingly Black and brown men, some arrested under dubious circumstances and others illegally jailed for weeks and months at a time. This program is abhorrent – and Abbott is proud of it.
But now that he’s been challenged in court by the very migrants targeted by his trademark border initiative, Abbott is suddenly exclaiming, “who, me?” Like his GOP compatriots in Washington, D.C., he doesn’t know how to govern. But he does know who to blame.
“In a dispute lodged by migrants challenging Abbott’s 2-year-old ‘Operation Lone Star’ initiative, Abbott said the migrants couldn’t sue him because he didn’t have any power to enforce the initiative,” Law360 reported this month. “Rather, it was the state’s peace officers who had the authority to arrest immigrants suspected of criminal trespass under the operation, he said.”
“Because the governor did not arrest, detain, or prosecute plaintiffs,” his legal brief stated, “any alleged harms they claim to have suffered are not fairly traceable to Governor Abbott.”
How convenient. He now wants the lawsuit, which was filed by a group of migrants last year, thrown out of court.
Sure, it’s state officers and officials who are carrying out the arrests and slapping migrants with state trespassing charges, but these arrests and state trespassing charges are happening only because of Abbott’s policy. And not only was it Abbott who put Operation Lone Star into place despite overwhelming evidence it has not been effective, he’s seeking to expand it, this month requesting an additional $1.5 billion in funding.
“The migrant plaintiffs initiated their lawsuit against state officials in April 2022, alleging in a complaint that the true purpose of the program was to deter migration and punish migrants, particularly Black and brown ones, for coming to the U.S.,” Law360 said. “In seeking an injunction ordering Texas to discontinue program operations, the migrants argued that the trespass arrests themselves were pretextual and unsupported by probable cause — ‘in a word, entrapment,’” the report continued.
There was reporting as early as October 2021, just a couple months after Operation Lone Star’s March 2021 launch, that some arrests under the policy were egregious as heck. “Texas prosecutor drops charges after migrants claim they were marched to private property, then arrested for trespassing,” The Texas Tribune reported at the time.
Migrants would tell attorneys “that when found near the highway, officers made the migrants walk for about 20 minutes and climb, hands zip-tied, over a nearly 10-foot fence onto a ranch before they were arrested for trespassing by state troopers,” the report noted.
That same year, ten state and national civil rights organizations filed a Title VI discrimination complaint urging the Department of Justice to formally investigate Operation Lone Star, noting that “[a]rrest records show profiling based on race and national origin, including with numerous descriptions of observing or receiving reports of ‘undocumented migrants.’ Virtually all if not all of those arrested to date are Latinx and Black men and are migrants.”
“In late June, after migrants filed their latest amended complaint — to include exhibits such as emails by a Kinney County attorney seeking an emergency declaration to allow Texas to take certain enforcement actions on its borders — Texas officials, including Abbott, filed their own requests to dismiss the lawsuit,” Law360 noted. Kinney County is prominent in 2021’s Title VI discrimination complaint, with organizations saying the county sought “to partner with vigilante groups and to fund a private security force to target migrants.”
One extremist organization that county leaders sought to partner with, Women Fighting for America, is headed by a supporter of the Jan. 6 insurrection. “The sheriff’s office for Kinney County along the Texas border recently approvingly shared a social media post comparing migrants to deer and suggesting they should be shot,” civil organizations also noted. No wonder Abbott is trying to distance himself in court.
Outside the courtroom, Texas lawmakers are only seeking to expand Abbott’s anti-immigrant agenda, proposing bills that would target immigrants with criminal penalties, as well as increase the incarceration of Texans.
“We’ve seen before that laws like these result in the unlawful racial profiling, arrest, and detention of both U.S. citizens and immigrants,” said Sarah Mehta, American Civil Liberties Union senior border policy counsel. “Gov. Abbott has repeatedly abused the legal system in a relentless campaign against asylum seekers and immigrants in Texas. This dangerous attempt to criminalize immigrants is cruel and comes at a great cost to our communities.”