The general public was made aware last fall that Greg Abbott had been using his Operation Lone Star border scheme to illegally jail hundreds of migrants for weeks at a time—some for months—with no formal charges. Many were subsequently released by a court, where legal advocates had challenged “widespread violations of state law and constitutional rights to due process,” The Texas Tribune had reported in September.
But months later, the right-wing Texas governor and his multi-billion dollar, taxpayer-funded border scheme continue to violate state law. The Texas Tribune newly reports that asylum-seekers and other migrants are still being unlawfully jailed without any formal charges.
“Texas laws require that criminal defendants be assigned an attorney within three days of asking for one, and misdemeanor defendants be released from jail pending trial if prosecutors do not file charges within 30 days after arrest,” the report said. But defense attorneys have said in court documents that some of the men have been detained for months now.
Detained men and advocates saw a possible lifeline, in a judge’s ruling earlier this year that cited violation of the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause. While that court ruling applied to one man, legal advocates said thousands of others arrested under supposed trespassing claims could launch similar legal action. But The Texas Tribune reports that Kinney County, where most arrests have taken place, has been fighting to try to stop that effort.
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Speaking of Kinney County. Ten state and national civil rights organizations that late last year filed a Title VI discrimination complaint calling on the Justice Department to probe the border scheme zeroed in on Kinney County in particular, noting its efforts going above and beyond to target migrants. That included “repeatedly” seeking to “partner with vigilante actors,” such as a Jan. 6 insurrectionist who “livestreamed a ride-along with Kinney County Sheriff Coe.”
The Texas Tribune reports that detained men who do receive a court hearing are offered release—only if they plead guilty. But even when men have been ordered released by the court, they’ve been instead turned over to federal immigration agents. “If they plead not guilty, they remain in jail indefinitely. The county has yet to schedule a trial for a trespassing arrest,” with hearings repeatedly delayed.
Despite Abbott publicly celebrating the one-year anniversary of Operation Lone Star, his office has fought transparency into the program’s effectiveness. Probably because it’s all a scheme.
“A year into the operation, officials touted more than 11,000 criminal arrests, drug seizures that amount to millions of ‘lethal doses’ and the referrals of tens of thousands of unauthorized immigrants to the federal government for deportation as signs that the program is effective,” a recent joint investigation from Marshall Project, ProPublica, and The Texas Tribune said. But officials had at first counted thousands of incidents and drug busts that had nothing to do with the border, excluding them after media outlets pressed for clarity.
Operation Lone Star has been a campaign prop that’s helped secure Abbott his precious primary win. Nevertheless, it's a campaign prop that’s still hurt real people, including the many asylum-seekers who are being illegally jailed in violation of their rights, and the local communities that’ve been denied resources because billions in taxpayer funds are instead being wasted on this policy. It’s unclear the status of a federal probe into the policy, despite numerous pleas.
“They’ve created a nefarious state enforcement system to punish brown and black immigrants,” Texas Civil Rights Project legal director Laura Peña told Border Report in December. “There’s real human suffering … as well as consequences to the border communities that are required to enforce it.”
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