Texas' Costly 'Operation Lone Star' Leaves Alleged Illegal Immigrants Trapped in Jail with No Due Process

Gov. Greg Abbott’s crusade is costing the state huge sums just to try to prosecute thousands of misdemeanor trespassing cases.


Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's border-control crusade is overwhelming court systems, leaving detainees stuck in jails for weeks or even months without due process, and generally isn't resulting in many convictions.

Abbott launched "Operation Lone Star" in March. Border enforcement is ordinarily the federal government's job, but Abbott decided to deploy the state's Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard to "deny Mexican Cartels and other smugglers the ability to move drugs and people into Texas."

Instead, according to media reports from multiple outlets, suspected illegal immigrants caught at the border are being arrested for misdemeanor trespassing and then being held in jail. And then…nothing, frequently. The Wall Street Journal reports that only 3 percent of the 1,500 people who have been arrested under Operation Lone Star have been convicted, all with guilty pleas of misdemeanor trespassing.

Texas does not have the authority to deport any of these people, so the rest are either still detained in jail or being released back into the community—the very outcome Abbott insists he was trying to stop.

A spokesperson for Abbott's office told The Wall Street Journal that his policy of jailing immigrants was a direct response to what Abbott calls President Joe Biden's "catch and release program," a common phrase among those who want tough enforcement.

Lacking any ability to deport these immigrants and apparently not being able to charge most of them with crimes other than trespassing and some property crimes (because they likely are not the drug cartel smugglers and human traffickers Abbott claims they are), many of them are just sitting in pretrial detention for weeks or months. Normally a person arrested in Texas for a nonviolent misdemeanor would be released or out on bail quickly, in a matter of days at most. That's not happening here.

In September, The Texas Tribune reported that hundreds of migrants weren't even being charged with crimes or provided with lawyers. State statute requires them to be charged or released within 30 days at most for trespassing charges. For a law-and-order type of guy, Abbott doesn't seem terribly inclined to enforce the state's own rules.

Meanwhile the courts on these border counties are being overwhelmed. Texas Monthly reports that Kinney County (population: 3,659), the ground zero for a lot of these arrests, hasn't had a jury trial in seven years. Kinney officials have filed charges against those they've detained, more than 1,000 migrants, but it's not entirely clear how they'll be able to arrange trials.

Abbott's crusade comes with costs, and they're considerable. Abbott shifted $250 million dollars from elsewhere in the budget (including the prison system itself) to fund this program. And the state legislature directed another $3 billion his way for border enforcement. Officials in Kinney County calculate that actually prosecuting all these immigrants will cost them $5 million, but Operation Lone Star's funding is sending only $3.19 million their way, according to Texas Monthly.

And look at what they're getting, according to The Wall Street Journal:

Of 170 Operation Lone Star cases resolved as of Nov. 1, about 70% were dismissed, declined or otherwise dropped, in some instances for lack of evidence, according to court records. The remaining cases ended in plea agreements during arraignments held via videoconference. The men were given sentences equal to or less than the time they had already served in jail.

In Val Verde County, the prosecutor dropped two cases when police body camera footage showed state troopers luring two immigrants onto private property so they could arrest them for trespassing.

This is big-government conservatism in action. A lot of money is being distributed to government employees. Citizens are being told there's a massive crisis that needs to be resolved. But to the extent that there is an actual crisis, this money is not, in fact, resolving it; it's instead imprisoning people in violation of their Fourth Amendment rights—which, yes, do apply to people in the United States illegally.