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Texas border

Members of the Texas Department of Public Safety's Tactical Marine Unit patrol the Rio Grande along the U.S.-Mexico Border near Mission, Texas on March 23, 2021 as part of Operation Lone Star. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

Rights Defenders Decry 'Unlawful and Cruel' Texas Anti-Migrant Effort as Abbott Surges Troops

"Operation Lone Star appears designed to further criminalize Latinx, Black, and other immigrant communities by arresting and detaining them on trumped-up charges that often fail to pass legal muster."

Brett Wilkins

As Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday announced the mobilization of 10,000 troops and police officers to the Mexican border as part of Operation Lone Star, human rights defenders condemned the effort as illegal, inhumane, and xenophobic and called on the Biden administration to stop the campaign.

"The Justice Department should urgently investigate and take all available measures to stop these abuses and ensure accountability for violations of migrants' rights."

Abbott, a Republican, said Operation Lone Star, launched in March, is meant "to combat the smuggling of people and drugs into Texas," and involves the state's Department of Public Safety (DPS), as well as "air, ground, marine, and tactical border security" elements of the Texas National Guard.

The latest phase of the Lone Star campaign, called Operation Steel Curtain, "includes placing physical barriers—like large steel containers and concertina wire—as well as personnel and equipment along the border in order to block and repel criminal activity and stop violations of state law," DPS Lt. Christopher Olivarez said Monday.

However, immigrant advocacy groups blasted Operation Lone Star, with Human Rights Watch (HRW) U.S. program executive director Nicole Austin-Hillery stating that the campaign "has led to serious due process and civil rights abuses, made a mockery of the Texas judicial system, and fomented dangerous xenophobia."

According to HRW:

The policy has led to Texas law enforcement officials arresting migrants on false allegations of low-level trespassing violations or inducing migrants to step on private property, then arresting them. Those arrested have been imprisoned, in several cases in abusive conditions, for weeks or months without charges or access to attorneys. The vast majority of charges have ended up being dropped or dismissed. The operation has increased the state's pretrial detention population, undermining criminal legal system reforms.

"The Justice Department should urgently investigate and take all available measures to stop these abuses and ensure accountability for violations of migrants' rights," Austin-Hillery asserted.

Carolina Canizales, senior Texas campaign strategist at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, said in a statement that "Operation Lone Star appears designed to further criminalize Latinx, Black, and other immigrant communities by arresting and detaining them on trumped-up charges that often fail to pass legal muster."

"The operation has led to unlawful activity by government and law enforcement on a systemic basis," she added. "The Department of Justice should act immediately to block the policy."

The rights advocates' condemnation came as the legal advocacy group Lawyers for Civil Rights published a report detailing "deplorable conditions at the border, including the illegal deprivation of medical care to refugees and unlawful barriers to asylum-seekers who are fleeing persecution and violence."


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