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Governor Greg Abbott at a press conference about the mass shooting at Uvalde High School
Gov. Greg Abbott at a press conference May 27 about the school mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images, file

DOJ to investigate Texas' controversial border plan

The Biden administration is looking into Gov. Greg Abbott's derided Operation Lone Star.

By

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott launched Operation Lone Star, his now-beleaguered plan for state-run border control, with clear political ambitions. 

Announced last March, the controversial initiative was meant to be a stick in the Biden administration’s eye. Abbott wanted the Texas National Guard to effectively act as federal border agents, despite the fact that its members — unlike real border agents — don’t have the authority to apprehend or incarcerate migrants for crossing the border without legal documentation. For that reason, Operation Lone Star has been little more than right-wing, anti-immigrant theater, featuring cruel and performative stunts like busing migrants all the way to Washington, D.C., from the Texas-Mexico border. 

And now, the Justice Department is investigating the operation for civil rights violations. The Texas Tribune and ProPublica were first to report the news Wednesday. And the investigation was confirmed by Texas Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar, who has called for a probe into Operation Lone Star for months. 

Abbott has garnered billions of taxpayer dollars for this operation, which has reportedly deployed more than 10,000 National Guard members and Department of Public Safety troopers for a mission rife with controversy. 

Here’s how the Tribune and ProPublica broke down some of Operation Lone Star's biggest issues: 

​​An investigation by the Tribune, ProPublica and The Marshall Project found that in touting the operation’s accomplishments, state officials included arrests with no connection to the border and statewide drug seizures. The news organizations also revealed that trespassing cases represented the largest share of the operation’s arrests. DPS stopped counting some charges, including cockfighting, sexual assault and stalking, after the publications began asking questions about their connections to border security.

Reporters for the Texas Tribune and ProPublica did, in fact, find that thousands of migrants have been arrested for misdemeanor trespassing, with some jailed for weeks without charges. Several jailed migrants who claim Abbott’s operation is functionally racist and a violation of their civil rights have filed a separate class-action lawsuit seeking relief

In essence, Abbott has created a (very) junior version of the U.S. Border Patrol that’s extremely costly, cruel and ineffective in curbing undocumented immigration. 

Even the people tasked with carrying out the operation know it’s been a disaster. Texas National Guard troops assigned to the operation have complained that they’re being misused, and have been forced to leave their families only to sit idle all day. For example, in an internal troop survey leaked to the Tribune and the Military Times back in February, one guardsman said, “I’m wasting time watching the grass grow at my [observation] point [along the border], while my civilian job is dying on the vine.”

It’s a sad state of affairs for Abbott, who’s tried to frame himself as an authority on immigration and a foil to Biden. He’s been touting his pet project, Operation Lone Star, for more than a year now. But the DOJ’s new investigation will likely help show how destructive the whole idea has been.