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ACLU calls for investigation into treatment of migrants in Texas Gov. Abbott’s Operation Lone Star

Aug. 8, 2022 Updated Mon., Aug. 8, 2022 at 12:43 p.m.

Border Patrol officers on an airboat patrol the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass in recent months. The region ranked the highest in June for Border Patrol apprehensions along the entire stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border.   (Lola Gomez/The Dallas Morning News/TNS)
Border Patrol officers on an airboat patrol the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass in recent months. The region ranked the highest in June for Border Patrol apprehensions along the entire stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border.  (Lola Gomez/The Dallas Morning News/TNS)
By Dianne Solis The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — The ACLU of Texas and the national ACLU filed a formal complaint on Monday asking for a federal investigation into Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star by the Department of Homeland Security civil rights compliance unit.

The controversial anti-immigration initiative has expanded multiple times since March of 2021 and GOP leaders say a spike in border migration justifies pumping at least $4 billion into Operation Lone Star.

The ACLU alleges that DPS agents are overstepping their legal authority by detaining and transferring migrants to DHS custody and its Customs and Border Protection agency. The letter asks that DHS take “swift action” to reject migrant transfers by Texas DPS or by any other state or local agency, and to end “any detention of migrants on federal property by Texas DPS.”

At issue are federal laws that place immigration enforcement under the command of federal authorities. The five-page complaint was filed with the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at DHS in Washington, D.C.

In Austin, DPS spokespersons didn’t have an immediate response. In Washington,. DHS didn’t respond to a request for comment either.

The complaint zeroes into CBP’s national standards on transport, escort, detention and search of migrants.

“Texas DPS officers are not bound by those same standards in their day-to-day operations,” reads the complaint letter signed by 3 ACLU attorneys. The scorching heat wave of triple-digit temperatures in Texas exacerbate concerns, according to the complaint. “Holding people outside for almost three hours in the South Texas summer poses a risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke,’ the ACLU attorneys said.

The letter asks for an investigation into the practices and an end to collaboration between the Texas state agency and the CBP. The complaint follows a July 7 executive order by Abbott authorizing the involvement of the Texas National Guard and DPS.

The complaint cites an Aug. 1 report by the Texas Tribune examining the questionable legal authority around Operation Lone Star and the murky collaboration between the state and the federal agencies.

The Texas Tribune report focused on Eagle Pass, which lies in the CBP Del Rio region and ranked the highest in June for Border Patrol apprehensions along the entire stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border. Immigrant rights advocates said Abbott may be preparing for another court tussle that could overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in a 2012 Arizona case that placed restrictions on states in immigration enforcement.

“Texas DPS officers do not have the authority to engage in immigration enforcement and therefore have no standards for holding people,” said Kathryn Huddleston, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas, in a separate interview.

“Both federal law and the Supreme Court a decade ago in a case called Arizona v. the United States have been clear that these matters are the purview of the federal government.”

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