AUSTIN, Texas – Border community activists testified against Operation Lone Star at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Border Security at the state capitol in Austin.

Operation Lone Star is Gov. Greg Abbott’s $4 billion border enforcement initiative that targets undocumented migrants for arrest, jail, and deportation. It has been in the national news because Abbott ordered state laws enforcement agencies to bus the undocumented immigrants they capture to other states in the nation. 

OLS has also come under scrutiny for the money it has burned through. Some estimates say the initiative is costing $2.5 million per week, with funding being moved to the operation from other state agencies. Legislators such as state Sen. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen have questioned its sustainability.

Among the border and immigrant rights groups to testify at the Senate Committee on Border Security hearing were La Unión Del Pueblo Entero, the Border Network for Human Rights, and Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance. They argue Operation Lone Star is unconstitutional because border security is a responsibility of the federal government. They say the operation has been designed to criminalize and rapidly deport migrants, many of whom are seeking safety in the U.S. 

In their testimony, the border community activists said OLS promotes racial profiling, fuels the mass incarceration of people of color, and encourages white supremacy rhetoric. They argue the money given to OLS would be better spent on street lights, healthcare, and workforce training.

The border advocates called on members of the committee to visit the border and see how Colonia residents live in fear. They also want to be invited to speak at future hearings as a recognized panel, just like ranchers and farmers were at a hearing in Eagle Pass. Instead, the advocates had to sign up to testify in the public comment period and were limited to three minutes of oral testimony.

Here is some of their testimony:

Fernando Garcia, Border Network for Human Rights 


“Good morning. Good afternoon. I’m Fernando Garcia. I’m the founder and executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights based in El Paso, Texas. 

“Today I’m speaking on behalf of the Latino families and border residents that are part of the Border Network in Frontera, Texas Organizing Project in El Paso Presidio, Sierra Blanca, Del Rio, Eagle Pass, Laredo and the Texas Valley. 

“I want to stress this point as clearly as I can. The state meddling in federal immigration enforcement is illegal, unconstitutional and very dangerous. One example, 2022 was the deadliest year on record of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers crossing the border, the US-Mexico border. But more concerning, dying on the Texas border. More than one dozen migrants died alone this year. And Operation Lone Star has contributed to this horrific situation by pushing migrants to isolated deserts, mountains and rivers and canals where they are dying at the ratio never seen before in our state. 

“Moreover, due to Operation Lone Star, border residents and citizens of the United States have been subjected to racial profiling and mistreatment by the state police and the Texas National Guard just because they look or they are Latinos living at the Texas border. Several studies such as the one conducted by the Texas Civil Rights Project showed that in just one county, Kinney County, traffic stops targeting border residents rose rose by 1,000 percent since the beginning of the operation, while the detention of immigrants and drug interdiction did not rise at the same proportion. So, the meaning of this is that, long term, border residents are being impacted disproportionately by Operation Lone Star. 

“Let’s be very honest, Operation Lone Star on the operational side is the terrible result of an intentional distorted narrative that base migrant families and asylum seekers has criminals, as a threat to the United States. This narrative does not reflect the border and immigrant families. There is not such an invasion. 

“So we’re calling for the following: first, Governor Abbott to immediately without delay, discontinue and the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee Operation Lone Star at the Texas border. Secondly, for the Texas Legislature to launch a quick and transparent investigation of the impacts of Operation Lone Star on the lives and rights of residents at the border. And specifically the relations between OLS and migrants dying at the border. Finally, for governor Governor Abbott and the Texas Legislature to redirect billions of dollars used on unnecessary state border enforcement operations and invest it in urgent needs at the border, such as healthcare, nutrition, education, housing and jobs. Thank you.” 

Tania Chavez Camacho, La Unión Del Pueblo Entero


“My name is Tania Chavez Camacho and I’m a member of La Union Del Pueblo Entero, an over 8,000 member organization. I have resided in the Rio Grande Valley community, my home, for the past 22 years. 

“Border communities are thriving, and vibrant. There is no better place to raise a family than the Rio Grande Valley, which was the case until Operation Lone Star started in March of 2021. 

“I actually lived as an undocumented citizen for 20 years in the Rio Grande Valley and I know firsthand what it is to live in fear. Dining at restaurants, with CBP and DPS officers sitting right next to you, gives you a grouching pain in the stomach. 

“Operation Lone Star is the latest attempt from Governor Abbott to criminalize immigrants and people of color and border residents like myself in the Rio Grande Valley. Recently, the Monitor, our local newspaper, released photos of overcrowded jail facilities in Hidalgo County, a result of the unnecessary arrests of immigrants crossing the border looking for humanitarian aid and a dignified way of life. 

“Senators, before you allocate more funds to Operation Lone Star, we ask that you investigate Operation Lone Star and immediately cut funding for the program. Senator Hinojosa, you and your colleagues should condemn Operation Lone Star because it is harmful for our border communities. It is harmful for your Valley. 

“Senators, this morning, you listened to a panel of law enforcement judges, chiefs, law enforcement agencies. They spoke about a large number of drugs and substances coming along the border. I happened to notice that none of them were actually law enforcement agencies from the border communities. From that testimony, it was clear that law enforcement was profiting from border communities. They even spoke about how Operation Lone Star has allowed agents to receive higher wages. Is that really what you meant Operation Lone Star to do? I ask you that you consider reallocating over $4 billion to a stole from COVID relief aid and allocate those funds to schools, medical programs, housing initiatives and other programs that will help our hardworking Texas. 

“Again, I urge you once again to cut the funding to Operation Lone Star.”

Audio

Here is more of the testimony provided by border community activists to the Senate Committee on Border Security:

Joaquin Rodriguez, social equity advocate


“Thank you, Senator Birdwell and the members of that committee. My name is Joaquin Rodriguez. As a social equity advocate, I’m speaking on behalf of the border community at Presidio, Texas. 

“There’s a deception happening at the Texas border doesn’t just impact border communities but the entire state. While the governor touts campaign rhetoric about the success of Operation Lone Star, that so called success is built upon a total misuse of taxpayer money and misrepresentation and gets its oxygen from xenophobia and racism. Abbott has fear-mongered and demonized fleeing Central Americans simply looking for a better life. 

“These deceptions include, to coin a word, defunding state agencies to pay for this failing policy. Texas lawmakers have tripled the amount the state spends on border security and eventually shifted $500 million away from other agencies to help pay for the cost, which exceeded what the legislature has approved. As of July this year Abbott’s debacle has cost taxpayers $2.5 million every week. 

“Meanwhile, according to a report from the nonpartisan based Texas Tribune, the DOJ is now investigating Operation Lone Star. Furthermore the Texas Tribune found that state officials inflated the numbers with arrests and statewide drug seizures, which had no connection with the border. The DPS has denied a public records request regarding the claim of hundreds of gang members arrested. The same investigation also found thousands of migrants have been arrested for trespassing on private property, and some had been kept in jail for weeks without charges. 

“Has violating a person’s human rights now become a Texas value? This lack of transparency at best is problematic. Whether it’s about the lie regarding the targeting of cartels, or whatever role the DPS and National Guard had in actually stopping Haitian refugees, or the truth about the actual amount of fentanyl caught by Operation Lone Star, or the fact that federal statistics show some of the counties in the Rio Grande Valley where DPS shifted additional resources away from were among those experiencing the greatest influx of immigrants and drugs. All these areas have zero accountability and transparency. 

“And I have yet to address the exploitive and racist bussing of refugees merely to quote ‘own the libs’ and score political points. Operation Lone Star is a failure and deemed so because it was built on a lie and the exploitation of the majority of innocent people seeking the same security that everyone here finds behind their gated communities. The continued failure of Republican leadership to insist on accountability is an absolute embarrassment.”

Betty Camargo, Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance


“Good afternoon, Chairman, members of the Border Security Committee. My name is Betty Camargo. I’m the State Coordinator for the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance, also known as RITA.

“RITA is a leading statewide alliance of grassroots organizations that works to transform the lives of immigrant and border communities in Texas. Members of RITA belong to the faith, the business, the law enforcement, and other community sectors that foster an inclusive environment in Texas, so that we can all live in dignity and rights. 

“RITA member organizations believe that it’s important not to only speak on how harmful Operation Lone Star has been to our Texas border residents, but also to speak on what actually needs to be funded in our border communities. 

You have already heard from many of my colleagues on how the implementation of Operation Lone Star is not only unlawful, it’s also racist and it’s a xenophobic political approach by the state of Texas to attempt to enforce its own version of the federal immigration law and it’s outside of jurisdiction. 

“So, to clearly understand the impact of Lone Star in our communities, we invite you, Chairman and members of the committee, to spend time with the border residents from El Paso all the way to the Rio Grande Valley and you’re going to be able to experience the poverty that prevents many of us Fronterizos from having the resources and means to achieve a dignified life. 

“The billions of dollars that you’ve spent on Operation Lone Star can be best spent on providing needed services in the border region. From job training to access to medical care and educational opportunities for young people. Our communities are in need of educational institutions that can prepare them for the workforce of tomorrow. We’re also in need of economic opportunities that will pay well above minimum wage. We need support to open our own businesses to hire workers. We also need you to invest in us so we can provide them with a dignified life. 

“Immigration and border enforcement are policy issues that need to be tackled in the halls of Congress and not in the backyards of border communities where border residents are stopped and harassed by DPS officers and any other law enforcement officials who assume that anyone who has brown skin like mine is here without status. Operation Lone Star is a racist, ill-conceived enforcement policy that perpetrates fear and violates people’s rights. That is not who we are as Texans. We are the new Ellis Island. And as those before us, we border residents welcome and embrace migrants seeking shelter and those that are fleeing violence and persecution. Thank you.”

Audio


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