Texas’ Costly ‘Operation Lone Star’ Leaves Alleged Illegal Immigrants Trapped in Jail with No Due Process

“Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s border-control crusade is overwhelming court systems, leaving detainees stuck in jails for weeks or even months without due process, and generally isn’t resulting in many convictions.
Abbott launched “Operation Lone Star” in March. Border enforcement is ordinarily the federal government’s job, but Abbott decided to deploy the state’s Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard to “deny Mexican Cartels and other smugglers the ability to move drugs and people into Texas.”

Instead, according to media reports from multiple outlets, suspected illegal immigrants caught at the border are being arrested for misdemeanor trespassing and then being held in jail. And then…nothing, frequently. The Wall Street Journal reports that only 3 percent of the 1,500 people who have been arrested under Operation Lone Star have been convicted, all with guilty pleas of misdemeanor trespassing.

Texas does not have the authority to deport any of these people, so the rest are either still detained in jail or being released back into the community—the very outcome Abbott insists he was trying to stop.”

“Lacking any ability to deport these immigrants and apparently not being able to charge most of them with crimes other than trespassing and some property crimes (because they likely are not the drug cartel smugglers and human traffickers Abbott claims they are), many of them are just sitting in pretrial detention for weeks or months. Normally a person arrested in Texas for a nonviolent misdemeanor would be released or out on bail quickly, in a matter of days at most. That’s not happening here.”

“Meanwhile the courts on these border counties are being overwhelmed. Texas Monthly reports that Kinney County (population: 3,659), the ground zero for a lot of these arrests, hasn’t had a jury trial in seven years. Kinney officials have filed charges against those they’ve detained, more than 1,000 migrants, but it’s not entirely clear how they’ll be able to arrange trials.

Abbott’s crusade comes with costs, and they’re considerable. Abbott shifted $250 million dollars from elsewhere in the budget (including the prison system itself) to fund this program. And the state legislature directed another $3 billion his way for border enforcement. Officials in Kinney County calculate that actually prosecuting all these immigrants will cost them $5 million, but Operation Lone Star’s funding is sending only $3.19 million their way, according to Texas Monthly.”

The Texas Social Media Law Is Blatantly Unconstitutional

“Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who..signed a bill that aims to restrict social media platforms’ editorial discretion, says the new law “protects Texans from wrongful censorship” and thereby upholds their “first amendment rights.” The law, H.B. 20, is scheduled to take effect on December 2, but that probably will not happen, because it is blatantly unconstitutional and inconsistent with federal law.

Abbott, a former Texas Supreme Court justice who served as his state’s attorney general from 2002 to 2015, presumably knows that. But whether he is sincerely mistaken or cynically catering to his party’s base, H.B. 20 reflects widespread confusion among conservatives about what the First Amendment requires and allows.”

“the First Amendment applies to the government and imposes no constraints on private parties.

To the contrary, the First Amendment guarantees a private publisher’s right to exercise editorial discretion. The Supreme Court emphasized that point in a 1974 case involving a political candidate’s demand that The Miami Herald publish his responses to editorials that criticized him.

The constitutional protection against compelled publication does not disappear when we move from print to the internet, or from a news outlet to a website that invites users to post their own opinions. As Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted when he was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, “the Government may not…tell Twitter or YouTube what videos to post” or “tell Facebook or Google what content to favor.”

Yet that is what H.B. 20 purports to do. The law says “social media platforms” with more than 50 million active monthly users in the U.S. may not “censor” content based on the “viewpoint” it expresses. That edict covers any effort to “block, ban, remove, deplatform, demonetize, de-boost, restrict, deny equal access or visibility to, or otherwise discriminate against expression.”

H.B. 20 makes a few exceptions, including “expression that directly incites criminal activity” and “specific threats of violence” that target people based on their membership in certain protected categories. But otherwise the rule’s reach is vast: As two trade organizations note in a federal lawsuit they filed last week, H.B. 20 “would unconstitutionally require platforms like YouTube and Facebook to disseminate, for example, pro-Nazi speech, terrorist propaganda, foreign government disinformation, and medical misinformation.””

The Texas GOP’s border wall fantasy

“It’s also not clear whether Abbott can use disaster funds to pay for the wall under Texas state law. He declared a disaster for 34 counties in the state last month due to a recent increase in unauthorized immigration at the border, freeing up resources to deal with the problem and allowing him to suspend state laws and regulations that would impede any solutions.”

“the current levels of unauthorized immigration might not truly constitute a “disaster.” While officials reported that the number of migrant apprehensions at the border in May was nearly eight times the total in the same month last year, that doesn’t necessarily mean the actual number of migrants trying to cross the border is higher.
Those numbers don’t account for the fact that there has been a surge in adults who have been caught trying to cross the border multiple times due to policies enacted during the pandemic. In 2020, 26 percent of migrants apprehended by Border Patrol had been caught more than once, compared to 7 percent the previous year.”

““A governor should not be able to circumvent the legislative process by declaring such matters to be emergencies and then implementing whatever measures he wishes,” state Rep. John Turner (D-Dallas), told the Texas Tribune. “If a governor can commence such a long-term, multi-hundred-million-dollar public works project under the cover of emergency powers, it is difficult to know what the limits of those powers are.””

“Abbott’s plans to arrest migrants at the border on various criminal charges, including trespassing and vandalism, would also likely face legal challenges if implemented.

Abbott has threatened to put such migrants “in jail for a long time,” but legal precedent isn’t on his side: The Supreme Court prevented Arizona Republicans in 2012 from similarly arresting migrants on trespassing charges, on the basis that states cannot enforce immigration law. It’s possible, however, that the 2012 ruling could be overturned with several new Trump-appointed justices on the Court.”

“Abbott and the Texas GOP’s embrace of a border wall seems to be part of their strategy for the 2022 midterm elections. Abbott is also up for reelection in 2022, but some have also suggested he could be setting up a run for president in 2024.

The Texas Republicans appear to be trying to appeal to their right-wing base in order to fend off potential primary challengers. There isn’t much concern about Democrats launching a serious offense in the general given that the party’s promises of Texas turning blue didn’t come to fruition in 2020.

Republicans in the state have also recently passed legislation aiming to fire up their base that removed the requirement of a permit to carry a handgun and established an effective ban on abortion. And Abbott’s agenda for an upcoming special session of the state legislature involves more items related to border security, restrictions on voting, and preventing the teaching of critical race theory in schools.”

“while there has been pushback from border counties and Democratic officials, the majority of Republican voters in Texas do support building the wall: about 74 percent, according to a recent survey by the Dallas Morning News and UT Tyler.”

Greg Abbott’s Border Wall Plan Is Doomed To Fail

“Abbott has so far provided little information about how he will finance the project, which will undoubtedly carry a hefty price tag. In Texas, one section of Trump’s border wall came out to be $27 million a mile. Abbott intends to provide $250 million in state revenues as a “down payment.” Those funds will come from a disaster account, a transfer made possible because he issued a disaster declaration in order to take a number of executive actions against migration. Abbott also expects that crowdfunding will help supplement state funds. So far, that effort has collected roughly $450,000.

David Donatti, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas who specializes in border issues, has concerns about Abbott’s financial approach.

“He has declared a disaster, and by that authority, he’s moving $250 million into an account that allows him to” build a border wall, says Donatti. “For a state like Texas,” $250 million “is a lot of money…that could be used for hurricane recovery, toward recovery from something like the freeze that we experienced.” Donatti calls it “an absurd abuse of power if nothing else,” even though the result of that abuse would provide “an ineffective solution to people coming to the United States.”

According to the governor, construction would also hinge on voluntary land concessions from borderlands residents. In Texas, most land along the border with Mexico is privately owned. That gives Abbott two options: either entice landowners to donate their property or seize it from the unwilling. To build his wall, Trump chose to initiate land grabs in the borderlands through eminent domain, which is a legal doctrine that allows the government to seize private property for public use. Affected landowners nominally must receive just compensation, though practically the process is rife with abuse.”

“Regardless of the wall’s future, Abbott is already implementing policies beyond a physical barrier to keep migrants out. As Reason’s Billy Binion reported, Abbott “has directed the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDJC) to clear out the Dolph Biscoe Unit, a state prison in Dilley, Texas, so that law enforcement can arrest and detain some undocumented migrants there.” He’s made it so that migrants are subject to “aggravated trespassing” charges, a misdemeanor, giving the state the authority to arrest migrants who are otherwise governed by federal immigration frameworks. As Donatti points out, that “quite clearly tramples on the federal government’s prerogative to immigration control.” Abbott has also revoked licenses for child care services found to be looking after undocumented migrant kids, which might lead to those minors being shuttled into inadequate emergency detention facilities.”