AUSTIN, Texas — Fifty Texas House Democrats on Wednesday called on the Department of Justice to investigate Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star border surge program.
It’s not the first such request concerning the controversial initiative that has the Texas Department of Public Safety and members of the Texas National Guard patrolling cities near the Texas-Mexico border.
The request follows reports that some members of the National Guard aren’t being paid and aren’t clear about their mission or what their roles are.
The letter claims the operation violates the U.S. Constitution and is overburdening local justice systems.
“Operation Lone Star uses state criminal law to target Black and Latino migrants,” the letter reads. “Texas has arrested more than 2,681 people on these misdemeanor trespass charges, and has created a separate criminal prosecution and detention system that makes a mockery of due process rights foundational to our nation’s judicial process.”
The letter mentions reports that tie the suicides of four National Guardsmen to Operation Lone Star. Abbott has dismissed those claims, however, referring to them as “politics.”
As many as 10,000 members of the Texas National Guard have deployed to border cities.
Launched in March 2021, Operation Lone Star directed Texas DPS and Texas National Guard to the Texas-Mexico border with the goal, according to the governor’s office, of combating “the smuggling of people and drugs into Texas.”
At the time of launch, Abbott said the Biden administration’s failure to address the surge of migrant border crossings prompted the program.
“The crisis at our southern border continues to escalate because of Biden Administration policies that refuse to secure the border and invite illegal immigration,” Abbott said. “Texas supports legal immigration but will not be an accomplice to the open border policies that cause, rather than prevent, a humanitarian crisis in our state and endanger the lives of Texans. We will surge the resources and law enforcement personnel needed to confront this crisis.”
In December 2021, civil rights groups, including the ACLU of Texas, Texas Civil Rights Project and Texas Fair Defense Project, filed a complaint with the DOJ over the program.
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In October 2021, a group of Democratic lawmakers, in a similar move, called on the DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security to investigate what they called Abbott’s attempt to “establish a separate state immigration policy.”
In a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland, Democratic reps. Joaquin Castro, Veronica Escobar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and many others said the policy is “wreaking havoc on Texas’ judicial system.”
“’Operation Lone Star’ includes a roughly billion-dollar Texas law enforcement program designed by Governor Abbott to target suspected migrants for arrest, jailing, and criminal prosecution by state and local law enforcement for the Texas state misdemeanor offense of criminal trespass,” the letter states. “These operations have continued to militarize Texas’ border communities and interfered with the federal immigration system, likely violating the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. Even more egregiously, these programs have directly led to a violation of state laws and constitutional due process rights.”