A number of soldiers ordered for right-wing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s border scheme have died by suspected suicide in recent months, Army Times reports.
Pfc. Joshua R. Cortez, among the four soldiers to have died since October, “was preparing to accept a ‘lifetime job’” when he was abruptly deployed for Abbott’s Operation Lone Star. The political scheme has targeted asylum-seekers for arrest and detention for months on end without any formal charges.
Cortez had initially appealed, writing it was his “last opportunity” for the job, Army Times continued. While his company commander sided with him, it was overruled. “Sometime in the next 36 hours, Cortez drove to a parking lot in northwest San Antonio and shot himself in the head.”
A Texas Military Department spokesperson “cautioned, ‘some of these [deaths] are still part of an open investigation’ pending a final cause of death,” Army Times noted. “But all four deaths reportedly occurred via self-inflicted gunshot wounds, according to official documents and sources familiar with the deaths.”
The report paints a bleak picture of Texas National Guard members abruptly pulled away their lives and families, sometimes with just a few days’ notice, to participate in an operation where many have served no purpose beyond a photo opportunity. That’s because it’s law enforcement that’s largely carried out the roughly 1,500 migrant arrests under Abbott’s operation.
Army Times said that while Texas Military Department and Texas Public Department Safety officials claimed in a statement that National Guard have been helping with arrests, the outlet “struggled to find evidence” of that beyond some tweets shared by Abbott. It’s unclear if that’s even legal.
The officials said soldiers have also been helping with barrier-building. That’s certainly more likely, because it was the case when the previous president deployed soldiers to the southern border for his own stunt. National Guard members are also doing a whole lot of nothing. “One junior soldier assigned to the observation posts said, ‘[We just] sleep in a humvee,’” Army Times reported. “When they’re not on duty, many of the troops are living in hotel rooms or in truck trailers converted to be squad barracks bays,” the report continued.
Texas National Guard soldiers are also getting pulled from their lives and loved ones as the state legislature is slashing their earned benefits, Army Times reported in October.
“Texas has slashed its tuition assistance budget by more than half—to roughly $1.4 million—to comply with a state-mandated budget reduction.” This is particularly devastating because that assistance is a major reason why many join the National Guard in the first place. Meanwhile, state funding for Abbott’s Operation Lone Star increased by $300 million.
“The string of suicides raises urgent questions about the mission’s conditions and purpose, as well as the way it’s organized and manned through indefinite involuntary call-ups, according to the Texas Army National Guard’s former top enlisted soldier,” Army Times continued in the latest report. That it’s a political scheme by the anti-immigrant Abbott amid his Republican primary is no secret, either. Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Jason Featherston “described the mission’s political motives as ‘common knowledge around the office.’”
“The [Texas Military Department]’s leadership has lost focus on what matters most, and that’s the soldier,” he also said. “Their inability to focus on the individual soldiers’ needs has cost several lives, and until they [focus], more tragedies will continue to happen.”
Abbott’s Operation Lone Star scheme has been previously slammed by immigrant and human rights advocates as “discriminatory and abusive.” Among the 1,500 people taken into custody since March have been at least six children, Human Rights Watch said. Last month, 10 state and national civil rights organizations also filed a Title VI discrimination complaint urging the Justice Department to formally investigate the racist scheme that’s attracted the attention—and support—of extremist groups. The leader of one of these extremist organizations, Women Fighting for America, is a Jan. 6 insurrectionist.
“Arrest records show profiling based on race and national origin, including with numerous descriptions of observing or receiving reports of ‘undocumented migrants,’” the state and national civil rights organizations said in the complaint. “Virtually all if not all of those arrested to date are Latinx and Black men and are migrants.”