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What is Operation Lone Star? Inside Texas’ state border policy

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Brandon Bell/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Last week, several thousand migrants reportedly walked through southern Mexico on the way to the United States in the largest migrant caravan of the year. Officials said they have disbanded the group in the past few days, but many may still be traveling in smaller groups.

In the past, many migrants would hope to get to the United States and claim asylum. In the last couple of years, however, multiple policies have tightened the border. These include the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols or MPP, which forces people seeking asylum to return to Mexico while awaiting their court dates.

Further, during the pandemic, Title 42 imposed travel restrictions and those seeking asylum were turned away at the border.

In May, there were nearly 240,000 unauthorized southern border crossings, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection – which is a two-decade high and a 30% increase from the same time last year.

In a response to the influx of illegal crossings, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott launched Operation Lone Star last year he said combat crime along the Texas-Mexico border and capture more immigrants trying to enter the United States. The law enforcement operation is to use “available resources to enforce all applicable federal and state laws to prevent the criminal activity along the border.”

According to an April 2022 Texas state report, Operation Lone Star touted more than 13,600 criminal arrests and more than 11,000 felony charges as well as over 3,700 weapons seizures.

“Texans demand and deserve an aggressive, comprehensive border security strategy that will protect our communities from the dangerous consequences related to illegal immigration,” said Abbott in a statement. “Until President Biden enforces the immigration laws passed by Congress, Texas will step up and use its own strategies to secure the border and negotiate with Mexico to seek solutions that will keep Texans safe.”

ABC News correspondent Mireya Villareal spoke to ABC News’ “Start Here” podcast about Operation Lone Star.

“[Abbott] decided to put National Guardsmen, Texas Guardsmen on the border, along with the increase of DPS troopers he already had patrolling the area who are helping local law enforcement,” said Villareal. “So we’re talking about roughly 10,000 soldiers that are now along the border with Operation Lone Star, but there is a lot of confusion about really what their duties are, what sort of arresting power they really have, and really what laws they are enforcing down there.”

Due to the way state laws are enforced by Operation Lone Star, immigration advocates said that migrants are being arrested on state trespassing charges and are treated like criminals before they’ve even been given the chance to seek asylum through federal policy, according to Villareal.

“The migrants that are coming across from Mexico believe the people they are running into are actual federal agents enforcing immigration policy,” said Villareal. “So they stop because they think they are turning themselves in and they will be given the ability to ask for asylum. However, that is not what happens when they run into either guardsmen or DPS troopers inevitably.”

She said this is why the state detention centers are overcrowded.

“The detention centers that are being used by the state of Texas are prisons that are meant for everyday criminals. And so the frustration we’re seeing and the reason why immigration advocates are being really loud about Operation Lone Star is because you are treating them like they are criminals,” said Villareal. “You have a migrant that has come to the U.S. begging for help, wanting to ask for asylum and being told they cannot.” Villareal calls it a “loophole” of a situation.

“This is where there is that very fuzzy line between what the state’s rights are and what laws they can enforce and what federal rights are and what laws they can enforce, what powers they have,” said Villareal. “I think that’s what immigration advocates are trying to fight here in trying to figure out is, does the state of Texas truly have the right to do this?”

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