Immigration

Problems Just Keep Mounting for Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star

Gov. Greg Abbott has promoted Operation Lone Star as a last-ditch effort to protect the border.
Gov. Greg Abbott has promoted Operation Lone Star as a last-ditch effort to protect the border. Dicklyon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
It’s become routine: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott takes to Twitter to boast about Operation Lone Star, and his team fires off press releases celebrating the controversial border clampdown.

Nearly every week, the governor’s office releases new tallies of the arrests, those sent by bus to sanctuary cities out of state and the drugs and weapons reportedly seized. Now and then, he hops on Fox News to tell the country he's doing all he can to keep the southern border secure.

On Friday, Abbott’s office published a new press release noting that the operation has seen north of 20,500 criminal arrests, more than 311,000 “migrant apprehensions” and upwards of 337 million “lethal doses” of fentanyl seized.

Texas has deployed thousands of Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers and National Guardsmen to carry out its border operation. If you listen to Abbott tell it, that’s because President Joe Biden’s administration has installed “open-border policies,” a curious description for one of the world’s most militarized frontiers.

On Fox News last week, DPS Lt. Chris Olivarez echoed Abbott’s talking points on the operation. “Cartels have been able to expand their criminal networks throughout the southern border because there is essentially an open border policy, and they’re taking full advantage of that,” he said.

You'd expect big results from Operation Lone Star, which has proven popular among many Texans. After all, the border effort has already cost more than $4 billion.

But just as routine as the governor's boasting is news of mounting problems. Last week alone, Operation Lone Star prompted a few embarrassments for Abbott and the Texas Republicans backing him. Here are a few of the more telling developments:

Prosecutor Calls Operation Lone Star ‘Waste of Time’

David Schulman, an assistant attorney for Kinney County, admitted in court that counties were moving forward with prosecuting deported migrants mostly because it meant more state funding, as first reported by the Houston Chronicle.

When asked by a judge whether funding was the main reason behind prosecuting such cases, Schulman said, "I would have to admit that, yes."

Noting that he didn’t speak on Abbott’s or Texas’ behalf, Schulman also described Operation Lone Star as “a waste of time and money.”

National Guard Troops to Fork Over Big Money to Feds

On Thursday, the Texas Tribune reported that state officials made a payroll error that might mean the state’s National Guard troops deployed to the Mexico border will wind up forking over hundreds or thousands of dollars in federal taxes.

In short, the error stemmed from the tax withholdings being improperly entered. "I was wondering why I was making so much,” an Army officer told the Tribune. “Wow. Just wow.”

Another National Guard Troop Death

Last Tuesday, a Texas National Guard troop reportedly shot and killed himself in Eagle Pass, the Tribune and Army Times reported.

According to those publications’ count, his death marked the 10th among National Guard troops since the governor expanded Operation Lone Star in September 2021.
Abbott issued a release offering his condolences to the troop’s family, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted a call for everyone to “pray for his family and friends in this most difficult time.”

But Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke pointed the finger at Abbott in a post on Twitter: “My thoughts are with his family, community, and the members of the Guard who served all of us alongside him. They should never be used as political pawns.”

Building a Wall (Very, Very Slowly and for Tons of Dough)

Abbott has also championed his decision to build a wall on the Texas-Mexico border, picking up where former President Donald Trump left off. But that effort has been a slow and costly process, one marred with concerns about funding.

Late last month, Texas Facilities Commission communications specialist Francoise Luca told the Observer that around 1.6 miles of barrier had been erected on the border in Starr County. In other words, the exact same length of wall that had been built as of March, when Luca gave that same number to the Border Report news outlet.

In Starr County alone, eight miles of wall could end up costing up to $162 million, according to the Commission's website.

On Thursday, The Nation magazine published a deep dive into the source of the wall's funding: To the tune of $1 billion, that money came from federal COVID-19 relief funding, the magazine reported. 
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Patrick Strickland is the former news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's worked as a senior reporter at Al Jazeera English. His reporting has appeared in the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.

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