Operation Lone Star was launched in March 2021 by Governor Greg Abbott’s Public Safety Office with the intent of, “…deterring illegal immigration… preventing the smuggling of drugs and weapons… [and] curtailing human trafficking…” It intended to prevent all of these from occurring by arresting and jailing “criminals along the border.” In May 2021, Governor Abbott issued a disaster declaration that now includes a total of 48 counties. As of December 2021, $74.8 million dollars in support of this operation had been provided to cities and counties near the Texas-Mexico border.
Operation Lone Star claims to have, “apprehended or referred to our partner federal and state law enforcement agencies” approximately 100,000 “illegal” migrants. Yet, only approximately 9,000 individuals have been returned back to Mexico. As reported by the Texas Tribune, the Texas National Guard troops have referred to their mobilization by the state as a disaster. They complained of “deplorable conditions” and an “unclear mission,” including delays in pay and weakened morale.
Regarding the migrants being arrested, during the legislative session last year, testimony was provided that males traveling without immediate family members were being targeted. For example, even if those men had a legitimate claim for asylum and were traveling with their brother’s family or nieces and nephews, they were still being arrested and charged with trespassing. The focus of the operation has been in Kinney and Val Verde counties where existing prisoners in the Dolph Briscoe Unit in Dilley, Texas, were being transferred to other prisons, because the Briscoe Unit was being turned into a detention center for Operation Lone Star.
The migrants being arrested are typically being charged with a misdemeanor for trespassing, to be tried in Texas state court. By law, they are afforded constitutional due process rights. Yet, numerous persons have to wait in jail for months before their cases are tried and processed. Often, the result is a migrant pleading guilty for time served. However, this can adversely impact an immigration claim or status they might have otherwise had.
In September 2021, the Texas Tribune spotlighted how criminal defense attorneys in Texas were asking courts to set those arrested free. Local justice systems were being overwhelmed by the number of arrests and were violating state law and constitutional due process rights of the migrants arrested. In December 2021, the Texas Tribune reported how a Kinney County judge removed three other judges in retaliation for letting migrants out of prison after months without being prosecuted.
In January 2022, a Travis County judge ruled the arrest of a migrant man under Operation Lone Star as unconstitutional. This has set the stage for a larger legal battle to determine if the arrest, charge of trespassing, and imprisonment are constitutional.