By Bethany Blankley

One year into Texas’ Operation Lone Star, a border security initiative launched by Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas is safer, he argues.

Conservative critics argue the border isn’t secure and had Abbott taken proactive measures when he first came into office seven years ago, Texas would be safer.

Since Operation Lone Star launched last March, “multi-agency efforts have led to more than 208,000 migrant apprehensions, along with more than 11,800 charges for criminal offenses – including more than 9,300 felony charges,” Abbott said. “Members of notorious gangs like the Texas Chicano Brotherhood, Bloods, Mexican Mafia, MS-13, and others have been taken off the streets. DPS has arrested sex offenders, weapons traffickers, previously convicted and deported criminal immigrants, drug dealers, and other wanted criminals. In the fight against fentanyl, DPS has seized over 269 million lethal doses throughout the state.”

Abbott said Texas launched Operation Lone Star because the federal government wasn't doing its job to secure the border.

"Within weeks of taking office, President [Joe] Biden turned our southern border into a porous mess where criminal aliens wandered across the Rio Grande River without anyone to interdict them. I refused to stand by and let our state be overrun by criminals and deadly drugs like fentanyl. Texans have never backed down from a challenge, and we won't start now, because our efforts are stemming the tide of illegal drugs and criminals flooding into Texas.”

In addition to Texas DPS making record interdiction efforts, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued the Biden administration nine times over immigration law violations, and the Texas legislature allocated $3 billion to border security efforts. The legislature also strengthened penalties for violations of laws related to human trafficking and the production and distribution of fentanyl, among other measures. Abbott was also the first Texas governor to begin construction of a border wall last December.

Since January 2021, roughly 2 million people have been apprehended entering the U.S. southern border illegally from over 150 countries. The number excludes “gotaways,” those who evade capture of law enforcement, which is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. While Abbott and Paxton have called on Biden to follow federal law and reverse his open border policies, the reality is that Texans have been dealing with illegal immigration for decades.

Under the Obama administration, illegal immigration drained Texas resources and cartel violence and crime increased. Operation Lone Star isn’t Texas’ first border security effort. Former Gov. Rick Perry launched similar operations from 2005 to 2014.

From December 2005 to June 2010, the Texas Legislature allocated $10 million in funding for Operation Linebacker to support Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition efforts. In 2007, it appropriated $110 million for border security efforts, including funding to support Operation Border Star. In 2014, Operation Drawbridge was also launched. And from June 2014 to January 2015, Operation Strong Safety was conducted in the Rio Grande Sector near McAllen.

A report to the legislature on its effectiveness states, “Although Operation Strong Safety has been successful in elevating the security of the border and state, it has limitations. First, it deters cartel smuggling activity by increasing the risk of interdiction, but it does not secure the border.”

In fact, none of the state’s efforts have secured the border, law enforcement officials acknowledge. It’s wide open in many places, easily accessible by foot to wade across the Rio Grande River.

The approach to spend billions of dollars on numerous law enforcement efforts that don’t secure the border reveals a fundamental problem with Texas’ approach, conservatives have argued for years.

After Abbott was first elected, he met with grassroots conservatives in 2015 who presented him with one possible solution. They urged him to create an interstate compact that state Sen. Bob Hall, R-2 proposed, and has continued to advocate for since.

One way to legally secure the border, Hall argues, is for two state legislatures to pass a compact committed to securing the border signed by both governors. The exact details of the compact would be determined by what the states agree to.

The compact needs congressional approval, which it could receive once Congress regains a Republican majority, Hall said. The states could then take operational control of the border without federal interference. If Congress failed to approve the signed compact within 10 years, it wouldn’t go into effect.

“Interstate compacts exist as a tool that allows partnering states to work together in what may normally be the jurisdiction of the federal government,” Hall said. “These compacts are nothing new, or even rare. Texas is a member of many.”

Abbott and the Republican-led legislature have not acted on Hall’s proposal.

If Abbott “had acted in 2015, he could have changed the entire trajectory of illegal immigration,” Maria Espinoza, co-founder of Houston-based The Remembrance Project, who met with Abbott in 2015, told The Center Square. She leads the only national organization dedicated to being “a voice for victims killed by illegal aliens.”

The legislative approach Hall proposed doesn’t have the same legal issues as a bill the Arizona legislature passed in 2010 does. The Supreme Court struck down the majority of that law in 2012. The Arizona case, and others, are included in an information packet Paxton’s office published as a resource for Texans to understand immigration case law.

But it excludes Hall’s legally viable option and ignores key Constitutional clauses that defend a state’s right to act: Article 1, Section 10, Clause 3; Article 4, Section 4; and the 10th Amendment, critics point out. Likewise, Paxton has refrained from issuing an opinion on any of these clauses.

Last June, Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced a different interstate compact that allowed other governors to send law enforcement and resources to participate in Operation Lone Star in Texas and Arizona. It lasted a few months. But illegal immigration, crime, drugs and human trafficking continued.

Additionally, the 208,000 apprehensions Abbott mentions involve Texas DPS and other law enforcement officers handing over illegal immigrants to Border Patrol agents. Under Biden’s catch and release policy, many of them are released into Texas. In many ways, Operation Lone Star is facilitating the release of illegal immigrants into the community, critics argue.

“Operation Lone Star has allowed our clients to avoid federal programs where they would have not only been expelled, but would have had to remain in Mexico (amid) pending asylum proceedings,” Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Kristin Etter, who’s represented more than 700 illegal immigrants, told the Houston Chronicle.

One of Abbot’s former Republican primary challengers, former state Sen. Don Huffines, said, “an illegal alien arrested under Greg Abbott has a greater ability to stay in the United States than one arrested by Joe Biden. Greg Abbott’s dog and pony show on the Texas Border isn’t making our state more secure. It’s actively making it worse. The only way Texas will ever stop this invasion and prevent illegal aliens from stealing our country is with a courageous Texas Governor willing to deport them back across the river.”

If Abbott viewed the border crisis as an invasion, he’d position the Texas National Guard along the border to prevent illegal immigrants from stepping foot in Texas, close ports of entry and take other actions, Kinney County Attorney Brent Smith said.

Law enforcement officers have made the greatest number of arrests in Kinney County out of all counties in Texas through Operation Lone Star, Smith added. Their efforts have been helpful in interdicting criminal activity in a county that shares a 16-mile border with Mexico, he said.

“Is Operation Lone Star the solution? No,” Smith told The Center Square. “The solution is sealing the border and preventing entry to begin with.”

He proposed a way to do this last year, arguing that Texas as a sovereign state has a constitutional right to defend itself.

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