Last week, Local Progress Texas Chapter Manager, Kara Sheehan, spent two days at the Texas-Mexico border to witness Operation Lone Star (OLS) firsthand. OLS is Governor Abbott’s multi-billion dollar Texas law enforcement operation to criminally prosecute and rapidly deport immigrants by targeting suspected migrants for arrest, prosecution, and incarceration on low-level state misdemeanor offenses.
Kara was there to participate in a Grassroots Leadership witness delegation, which visibilizes the violent and dehumanizing way the criminal legal system in Texas is being weaponized against migrants and people seeking asylum.
Since OLS began in March of 2021, there have been over 233,000 arrests of people seeking safety and family reunification. During the witness delegation, Kara had the opportunity to hear directly from people who had been targeted through OLS and observe law enforcements’ interactions with communities along the Texas-Mexico border.
During the first day of the delegation, participants were introduced to the Segovia 11, a group of men who were detained for up to 170 days in Texas state prisons with no communication with an attorney or criminal charges filed against them. Participants learned about the dehumanizing treatment of these men – including verbal, physical, and psychological abuse; rationed rotten food; and dismal legal representation.
The stories of the Segovia 11 mirror the thousands that currently remain incarcerated under OLS. Hearing from those who have been most harmed by OLS left participants saddened and angry by the violence of our punitive systems.
On the second day of the delegation, participants traveled to Kinney County, where many of the arrests take place. There, they noted the enormous law enforcement presence. Kinney County, an under-resourced locality with a population of less than 4,000 residents, has now initiated more than 4,000 cases against migrants in the past two years. Previously, the County saw about 50 cases per year.
“It was shocking to see law enforcement officers from all over Texas present throughout our stops on the second day,” Kara said. “Vehicles from Galveston, Flower Mount, and Lewisville were present – parts of Texas that are over six hours away.”
Kara noted that the law enforcement officers who have been deployed to the Texas-Mexico border were among the hundreds that responded to the tragic elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
“Despite almost 400 officers present, 21 people lost their lives,” Kara reflected. “The idea that this increase in officer presence is about public safety is a facade.”
Participants also went to the Val Verde County processing center on their second day, where people await their first hearing. There, they witnessed a magistration take place where a young father was charged with two counts of smuggling – with bail set at $400,000. Kara observed that he had no legal counsel present and was told a public defender would reach out in two-three days. Further, the judge presiding over this hearing was a retired judge from Harris County.
Throughout the delegation, participants learned about the OLS budget. In just the past 18 months, OLS has misspent four billion dollars, and Governor Abbott has proposed $1.4 billion more to fund OLS through 2022. These hundreds of millions in dollars could be invested in the actual health and care of our border communities, yet under Governor Abbott’s plan, they will just be used to increase the militarization and surveillance of these communities.
The witness delegation also made participants aware that this issue goes far beyond Texas. OLS has created a blueprint on how to expand the carceral and punishment system outside of Texas. And already, states like Arizona have begun to follow suit. While witnessing these atrocities and learning about this awful operation was devastating, delegation participants were left with a new lens through which their organizations and communities can continue to fight back against OLS.
After much reflection, Kara shared her thoughts about the witness delegation experience. We’ve shared a couple thoughts below in hopes that they inspire readers to take action:
“The arrest-to-deportation pipeline is the real crisis. As income inequality grows, health outcomes worsen, and our electric grid remains at risk of another failure, Abbott continues to funnel money into the criminal legal system. The issue we need to grapple with is how our state is starving our systems of care and instead creating an entire economy focused on imprisoning Black and brown communities.”
“Throughout the delegation, what we saw were entire communities being overtaken by various law enforcement agencies and increased surveillance. At any moment, you could see a drone flying overhead or armed vehicles and officers patrolling. This state-imposed border militarization has far reaching impacts beyond our state and will leave its footprints on generations to come.”
We hope these thoughtful reflections will encourage readers to take action. Here are a couple ways to do so:
- Support the Segovia 11 and other migrant men arrested under OLS fighting their criminal trespassing charge and making the decision to go to trial against the state of Texas. Tune into the virtual courtroom October 10 and October 17, 2022 at 9:00 am CT.
- Help Grassroot Leadership pay migrants’ bonds so they can be reunited with their loved ones. Supporters can donate to GRL’s bond fund as they can continue to support migrants targeted by OLS.
- If you are a local elected official, sign up to become a Local Progress member and join a network of leaders working together to build an inclusive, multi-racial democracy. If you’re already a Local Progress member, get in touch to get more involved in our immigrant justice and community safety work. We also recommend taking a look at the resources the Immigrant Legal Resource Center has put together on OLS and other local policy areas here.
The Local Progress Texas Chapter (LPTX) drives progressive change through collaborative governance with local partners and communities. Since becoming an official state chapter of Local Progress in 2019, we have mobilized elected officials from five cities to coordinate a legal strategy to fight back against SB4, and organized elected officials from more than a dozen municipalities to work together on raising wages for municipal workers. See our Statement of Principles here.