Ten state and national civil rights organizations have filed a Title VI discrimination complaint urging Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to formally investigate Texas’ Operation Lone Star border scheme that has swept up hundreds of migrants on charges of trespassing, while others have been jailed for months with no charges at all.
“Under Operation Lone Star, Black and Brown migrants are being unlawfully targeted,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas. “Near the border, Texas law enforcement directed individuals to a particular place—giving them the impression they had permission to be on the property—and then arrested them for trespassing.”
The Texas Tribune reported in October that officers did more than direct targeted migrants to private property—they forced them there. Migrants told attorneys at the time that they were forced to “walk for about 20 minutes and climb, hands zip-tied, over a nearly 10-foot fence onto a ranch before they were arrested for trespassing by state troopers.”
“Arrest records show profiling based on race and national origin, including with numerous descriptions of observing or receiving reports of ‘undocumented migrants,’” the organizations said in the complaint. “Virtually all if not all of those arrested to date are Latinx and Black men and are migrants.”
Mirroring concerns from human rights advocates, the groups point to “evidence of racial profiling and biased policing” and racist rhetoric from right-wing elected officials that further endangers a state that’s already been a target for deadly white supremacist violence. The El Paso white supremacist shooter’s scrawling denounced a supposed “invasion of Texas” by Latinos. Latinos have been in the region long before it was ever the United States. Both the complaint and human rights groups point to right-wing elected officials from Gov. Greg Abbott on down echoing white supremacist rhetoric.
The complaint further zeroes in on Kinney County for “undertaking additional efforts to target migrants,” including “repeatedly” seeking to “partner with vigilante actors.” The leader of one of these extremist organizations, Women Fighting for America (WFFA), is a Jan. 6 insurrectionist, the complaint said. “In November, the WFFA leader livestreamed a ride-along with Kinney County Sheriff Coe, which she described as ‘working with the sheriff hand in hand and doing some proof of concepts out here, basically, to help facilitate closing down our borders.’”
“Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance,” the complaint said. The Operation Lone Star scheme is “backed by almost $2 billion in state funding for the next two years, with planned expansion to other counties,” the complaint continued. “Officials have said they plan to continue the program for years; one state official recently termed it ‘indefinite.’”
Like we’ve seen with anti-choice legislation, the complaint warns that without federal intervention, anti-immigrant officials in other states could implement copycat programs.
“Operation Lone Star fuels the flames of racist, anti-immigrant sentiment in Texas and threatens to embolden states along the border to initiate similar discriminatory programs,” Texas Civil Rights Protect tweeted on Wednesday. Laura Peña, legal director for the group’s Racial and Economic Justice Program, told Border Report that state officials have “created a nefarious state enforcement system to punish brown and black immigrants. There’s real human suffering … as well as consequences to the border communities that are required to enforce it.”