Immigration

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Gets Another $495 Million for Widely Criticized Border Operation

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has ramped up a row with the Biden administration over a spike in migrant arrivals.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has ramped up a row with the Biden administration over a spike in migrant arrivals. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star hasn’t gone over well with everyone. Since he launched it last March, the campaign has attracted criticism from Democrats and some Republicans.

On Friday, Abbott announced that Texas had approved another $495.3 million for Operation Lone Star and additional “border security operations,” according to a press release.

The massive spike in funding for Operation Lone Star comes amid an ongoing political battle between Texas’ Republican leadership and President Joe Biden’s administration over migration and the border.

"Texas will not sit on the sidelines as President Biden continues turning a blind eye to the crisis at our southern border," Abbott said in the release.

The funding was approved by Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, state Senate Finance Committee Chair Joan Huffman and state House Appropriations Committee Chair Greg Bonnen.

Describing the Biden administration’s border policies as “irresponsible,” Phelan added in the release: "As the humanitarian and security costs of this crisis continue to escalate, Texas is once again put in the position of doing the job the federal government refuses to do."

Well-funded or not, Operation Lone Star has drawn plenty of critics. The operation has seen Texas Department of Public Safety agents and National Guard troops dispatched to the southern frontier, and last year, Abbott inaugurated part of the state’s own border wall, which only spanned some 900 feet in December.

On Thursday, the Texas Democratic Party blasted Abbott for “lying” about the border clampdown. “Texas Republicans continue to waste taxpayer dollars to fund their campaign to grab headlines instead of actually doing their jobs and supporting Texans,” state Democratic Party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement.

“Abbott’s office is flat out lying when he cites statistics attempting to justify his reckless policies along the southern border,” Hinojosa added. “Just a few weeks ago, Abbott claimed that Operation Lone Star had seized over 887 pounds of fentanyl, which was later proven to be false.”

In February, the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas, Texas Fair Defense Project and other advocacy groups called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Operation Lone Star’s migrant arrest program.

"Abbott's office is flat out lying when he cites statistics attempting to justify his reckless policies along the southern border." - Gilberto Hinojosa, Texas Democratic Party

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The coalition of advocacy groups accused Abbott and Operation Lone Star of including “anti-immigrant extremists,” such as Kinney County Sheriff Brad Coe, who has blamed Hungarian-American billionaire philanthropist George Soros of bankrolling migration to the U.S. (The far right has long spread conspiracy theories about Soros, echoing anti-Semitic claims that Jews are behind immigration to western countries. Coe made the comments on far-right provocateur Steve Bannon's podcast.)

Coe has also fielded criticism for his reported ties to the anti-migrant Patriots for America Militia, an armed vigilante group that has carried out patrols on the Texas-Mexico border.

Earlier this week, ProPublica, the Texas Tribune and The Marshall Project released a list detailing seven times the outlets claim Abbott and other Texas leaders have lied about Operation Lone Star.

Among the reportedly false claims Abbott and others have made are the claims that more than 700 gang members were arrested at the border, that the Border Patrol credited Operation Lone Star for preventing thousands of Haitian immigrants from entering the country and that some 887 pounds of fentanyl had been seized from people who had crossed into Texas, among others.

The news outlet fact-checked those claims, concluding that there was no evidence to back any of them.

During primary elections earlier this year, several Republican challengers blasted Abbott over the operation. Allen West, the former chair of the Texas GOP, blamed Abbott for a spate of National Guard suicides throughout the operation and payment delays to those deployed to the border, Texas Tribune reported at the time.

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Jason Featherston, who oversaw the Texas Army National Guard between May 2020 and last November, warned in January that “morale is very low among the soldiers on the border," the Tribune also reported.

"And when morale is low, soldiers do not extend and stay in the Army National Guard or the Air National Guard or the state guard,” Featherstone added.

In recent months, Abbott has been blasted over anti-migrant rhetoric that, at times, resembles white nationalist conspiracy theories.

After a white nationalist shot and killed 23 people in an El Paso Walmart in August 2019, citing a supposed "Mexican invasion," Abbott and other Texas Republicans condemned the shooter's rhetoric. But since Biden took office, Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick, among others, have repeatedly described the border crisis as an "invasion."

In March, migrant apprehensions on the southern border hit a 22-year high, according to Customs and Border Protection.

Last month, rights groups condemned Abbott and other state governors for establishing the "American Governors’ Border Strike Force," a coalition of Republican-led states that claim to be combatting human and drug trafficking.

But it's not just Operation Lone Star that's prompting scrutiny. When Abbott ordered state authorities to inspect trucks crossing the Texas-Mexico border, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller described the move as an "economy-killing action" and "political theater."

Another controversial move, Abbott's decision to bus migrants from Texas to Washington, D.C., appeared to backfire when migrants thanked the governor for the free ride.

“I thank [Abbott] wholeheartedly because I was able to make it safe and sound and, even better, with good service and at no cost," Víctor Rodríguez, who had been sent to the U.S. capital, told The Dallas Morning News. "I consider it true humanitarian aid."

This week, Abbott appealed for private donations to continue sending migrants to D.C. via bus after conservative critics accused the governor of misusing taxpayer funds for the venture and "incentivizing" people to cross the border into Texas with the hopes of a free ride north, the Texas Tribune reported. 
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Patrick Strickland is the news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's a former senior reporter at Al Jazeera English and has reported for the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.