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Date : May 20, 2022

Federal lawsuit accuses Texas’ migrant arrest program of targeting ‘Black and Brown — primarily Latino — individuals’

A group of attorneys filed a federal lawsuit against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star” effort to arrest migrants under state criminal trespassing laws, alleging it targets “Black and Brown — primarily Latino — individuals for prosecution.”

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in the US District Court of Texas’ western district on behalf of 15 migrants who were arrested in Texas under the program.

The plaintiffs argue in part that the trespass arrests under Operation Lone Star “regularly lack probable cause,” “are discriminatory on the bases of race and national origin, including perceived immigration status,” and that the discrimination violates constitutional rights.

They also argue the trespass arrest program is one facet of Texas’ “broader effort” to illegally usurp federal law “and unilaterally create a state immigration policy and unilaterally engage in immigration enforcement without authority or oversight from the federal government.”

The lawsuit asks for $5.4 million in damages. It also asks for a judge to, among other things, declare that federal law preempts Operation Lone Star, and to order the defendants to discontinue the operation.

Among the listed defendants are Abbott and Texas’ Kinney County, a county along the US-Mexico border. They has reached out to Abbott’s office and has not heard back. Kinney County, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice sent a messages saying that the departments do not comment on pending litigation.

Abbott launched Operation Lone Star — which his office said was an effort to combat illegal immigration and the smuggling of people and drugs into Texas at the US-Mexico border — in March 2021.

More than 5,000 people have been arrested under the operation, suit says

The lawsuit claims the state “has created a separate criminal prosecution and detention system” for migrants arrested under the operation — one with “separate criminal dockets, separate public defender assignments, separate jails (converted state prisons), and even a separate ‘criminal migrant processing facility’ for booking.”

This system has led to civil rights violations, “including fraudulent probable cause affidavits, failure to appoint counsel, failure to timely file charges, over-incarceration, and even the unilateral replacement of judges,” the filing states.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s anti-migrant plan: Many arrested, many detained, few prosecuted 

Under the arrest program, more than 5,000 people have been arrested on misdemeanor state criminal charges, and hundreds of migrants have been arrested and jailed for weeks or months without a lawyer, without charges, without bond, without legitimate detention hold, or without a court date, the suit alleges.

“Arrest records show profiling based on race/color, national origin, and/or immigration status, including with numerous descriptions of observing or receiving reports of ‘undocumented migrants,'” the suit states.

Operation Lone Star has leaned on resources from the Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas National Guard to police the border. At one point, the operation swelled to more than 10,000 service members.

The effort eventually included arresting suspected undocumented immigrants on suspicion of trespassing if they are found on private property after crossing the border.  The lawsuit also contends some arrests that lacked probable cause included “cases in which law enforcement has directed individuals from public property to a certain location, only to then arrest them for trespass once they get there.”

As Abbott deployed thousands of personnel to the US-Mexico border, the operation has been slammed as overtly political and a waste of resources by Democratic lawmakers and even some of the National Guard members participating in the mission.