Greg Abbott's Pricey Border Operation Probed for Civil Rights Abuse: Report

Texas Governor Greg Abbott's pricey border initiative is reportedly under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) for alleged civil rights violations.

The investigation was first reported by The Texas Tribune and the nonprofit news organization ProPublica, which said that they had obtained state records.

The report, for example, mentioned one letter—which noted a "formal investigation" by the DOJ of Operation Lone Star—that was allegedly sent last Friday by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to Texas' attorney general. The department's deputy general counsel wrote in the letter that the DOJ was looking into whether people who were arrested as part of Operation Lone Star were facing "differential and unlawful conditions of confinement based on their perceived or actual race or national origin," the Tribune and ProPublica reported.

Abbott has repeatedly criticized President Joe Biden for what he calls "open border policies." He even bused migrants this year to Washington, D.C., saying at a press conference that the action was taken so "the Biden administration will be able to more immediately address the needs of the people that they are allowing to come across our border."

Abbott's office, in conjunction with the Texas Department of Public Safety, announced in March 2021 that it had launched Operation Lone Star "to combat the smuggling of people and drugs into Texas." A release from Abbott's office said that the initiative integrates the Texas National Guard with the DPS "and deploys air, ground, marine, and tactical border security assets to high threat areas to deny Mexican Cartels and other smugglers the ability to move drugs and people into Texas."

Operation Lone Star Reportedly Under Investigation
Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star border initiative is reportedly under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for alleged civil rights violations. Above, Abbott speaks during a press conference about the mass shooting at Uvalde High School on May 27. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

"The crisis at our southern border continues to escalate because of Biden Administration policies that refuse to secure the border and invite illegal immigration," Abbott said in a statement at the time.

"Texas supports legal immigration but will not be an accomplice to the open border policies that cause, rather than prevent, a humanitarian crisis in our state and endanger the lives of Texans," he went on. "We will surge the resources and law enforcement personnel needed to confront this crisis."

Days after announcing the launch of the operation, Abbott's office said that the initiative would be expanded to include anti-human-trafficking efforts.

Last year, the bulk of the $3 billion that Texas' Legislature approved for border measures over the following two years went to Operation Lone Star, the Tribune reported. Although $3 billion can be seen as a large sum by itself, it is also pricey in comparison to what Texas has allocated for border security in the past.

For the two-year budget cycle in 2008-2009, Texas allocated $110 million in state funding for border security, the Marshall Project reported. With most of the $3 billion reportedly going to Operation Lone Star, this likely means that one initiative received more funding in the 2022-2023 budget cycle than was directed for border security for the entire state in the 2008-2009 cycle.

In late April this year, Abbott's office announced that the governor and state leaders had approved $495.3 million in additional funding for Operation Lone Star that "will address immediate border security needs."

Investigations conducted by The Texas Tribune and ProPublica since the launch of Operation Lone Star indicate that the reality of the initiative has not always been as rosy as Texas leaders have described it.

One investigation by the Tribune, ProPublica and the Marshall Project, for example, found that state officials included arrests that had no ties to the border or drug seizures in the state when touting Operation Lone Star's accomplishments.

A Texas DPS spokesperson confirmed to Newsweek that it had received a letter from the DOJ in May requesting information about Operation Lone Star. A copy of the letter shared with Newsweek showed that the request specifically sought information about the Texas DPS's "compliance with the nondiscrimination requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

"DPS is being responsive and assisting USDOJ in that request," the spokesperson said.

Renae Eze, a press secretary for Abbott, shared a statement with Newsweek that read: "Instead of addressing the border disaster created by President Biden's open border policies, the Biden Administration is attacking the only state taking unprecedented actions to do the federal government's job and secure our southern border.

"Texas continues stepping up to secure our border, deploying thousands of Texas National Guard soldiers and DPS troopers and allocating over $4 billion of Texas taxpayer money for border security, including building our own border wall and erecting strategic barriers," Eze continued.

"This has resulted in over 274,000 migrant apprehensions, over 16,900 criminal arrests, including smugglers and human traffickers, over 22,000 turnbacks, and millions of lethal doses of fentanyl seized. It's time for President Biden to fulfill his oath of office and secure our southern border," Eze said.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

Updated 7/6/22, 4:45 p.m. ET: This story was updated with additional information and comments from the Texas DPS and Abbott's office.