In July, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott authorized state troopers to arrest migrants for criminal trespassing and Operation Lone Star was born. Now a few months later, this effort to reduce illegal border crossings seems to have backfired, overwhelming local courts and resulting in few convictions.
According to The Wall Street Journal, just 3% of the 1,500 people arrested on misdemeanor trespassing charges, have been convicted, all via guilty pleas. Most of the others are waiting weeks or months in jail for their cases to be processed.
Operation Lone Star has the Texas National Guard working in tandem with state troopers, located in two border counties, Kinney and Val Verde. To help pay for this operation, Abbott shifted more than $250 million from various corners of the state budget and the Republican-controlled state legislature approved an additional $3 billion for border security.
Texas is the first state to implement a strategy of arresting illegal border crossers on trespassing charges.
As of Nov. 1, some 1,006 migrants were jailed under the initiative. More than half of them stayed in jail longer than 30 days and some even longer than 60 days, when in fact it is highly unusual for people arrested on misdemeanor charges in Texas to stay in jail for more than a few days, according to defense attorneys and prosecutors.
Since only the federal government has the authority to deport foreigners, some men jailed under Operation Lone Star end up being released in the U.S while they pursue inmigration cases, when in the past they would usually be deported in a day or two when caught by Border Patrol.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Abbott said the Republican governor “initiated a new policy of arrest and jail—instead of President Biden’s catch and release program—to stop this revolving door and deter others from considering entering illegally,” as reported by The Wall Street Journal.
As of Nov. 1 there have been 170 Operation Lone Star cases resolved, about 70% of them were dismissed, for lack of evidence, according to court records. The remaining cases ended in plea agreements and the men were given sentences of equal or less time than they had already served in jail.
There were cases in Val Verde County, where the prosecutor, Attorney David Martinez, refused to prosecute after reviewing evidence in which it was shown the migrants were waved over by a state trooper onto private property before being arrested.
“The body language of the trooper was welcoming and then they turn around and arrest him,” Mr. Martinez said, noting that people have to know they are unwelcome to be guilty of trespassing.
In another hearing in Kinney County, county Judge Vivian Torres ordered the release of four migrants because their documents raised questions about the period of time they had been in jail, claiming it was ‘a violation of their rights’. The prosecutor agreed and dismissed the charges.
Kristin Etter, a lawyer with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid – group who has represented more than 500 arrestees – said some migrants who would have been immediately deported if caught by the Border Patrol, are now waiting in the U.S after being released by state authorities, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.
“A lot of our clients have actually benefited from Operation Lone Star as far as their immigration case,” said Ms. Etter.