02/23/2022

(Austin, Texas)The Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas, Texas Fair Defense Project, and partner organizations submitted a supplemental Title VI discrimination complaint urging the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to formally investigate Texas’ Operation Lone Star (OLS) migrant arrest program.

The complaint provides newly discovered information indicating that Kinney County officials — who have expressed anti-immigrant views and used racist language to describe migrants — appear to have been instrumental to Texas’ creation and enforcement of the trespass arrest program. It also provides new information about Kinney County’s partnership with a private vigilante group, including in arresting migrants. There is an urgent need for DOJ action in light of the program’s expansion to Jim Hogg County, just north of the Rio Grande Valley, and to Uvalde County. 

Initiated in March 2021, OLS is the state program under which Texas law enforcement officers target migrants for arrest, jailing, and criminal prosecution for the state criminal offense of “trespassing.” The supplemental complaint follows on the organizations’ original complaint about the OLS trespass arrest program in December 2021, urging investigation into the program arresting Black and Brown migrants for discrimination on the basis of race and national origin. 

“Over the past year, Gov. Abbott has used extremist, racist language to describe the border, calling humans seeking safety an invasion in order to direct millions of dollars to small rural Texas counties as part of Operation Lone Star,”  said Roberto Lopez, Community Outreach Coordinator at the Texas Civil Rights Project. “Our investigations into these counties has shown that the actions they are taking are just as extreme and racist. Counties like Kinney are working with extremist militia groups and purchasing $20,000 drones in order to target and imprison Latino men. The federal government must investigate Operation Lone Star. Each month that passes by inflicts further harm not just on the migrants being sent to state jails, but also the local communities being exploited for this racist project.”

“In the absence of federal intervention, Texas’ racist and xenophobic migrant arrest program is flourishing — and expanding,” said Kate Huddleston, staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “For months, the state of Texas has deliberately targeted Black and Brown migrants for arrest and punishment, in a separate criminal system rife with civil rights abuses. This is a plain violation of federal anti-discrimination protections. Our new complaint raises serious concerns that local officials with extremist anti-immigrant beliefs played a key role in Governor Abbott’s creation of the migrant arrest program.  DOJ must immediately investigate.”

“Rather than investing resources on legitimate community needs, the Lone Star scheme wastes millions on targeting migrants and people of color in Texas,” said Carolina Canizales, Senior Texas Strategist at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. “Operation Lone Star is not only a direct attack on the humanity of migrants but on the livelihood of all our border communities as it continues to expand. President Biden made a commitment to combat white supremacy while in office, yet the administration has failed to intervene and ultimately end this scheme. The ILRC and partner organizations will continue to demand the Department of Justice (DOJ) take swift and immediate action against Lone Star.”

“Operation Lone Star fuels the flames of racist, anti-immigrant sentiment in Texas and threatens to embolden states along the border to initiate similar discriminatory programs,” said Liz Castillo, Senior Organizer at Detention Watch Network. “The DOJ must investigate now as a first step to ending this racist program in its entirety.”

“The devastating toll of Operation Lone Star mounts every day as state and local authorities continue to plough resources into the expansion of a separate criminal legal system targeting Black and Brown migrants. The time is now for the DOJ to investigate,” said Camilla Hsu, Managing Attorney, Litigation, at Texas Fair Defense Project.

The supplemental complaint reveals newly discovered information that Kinney County officials called for the arrest of migrants on state criminal trespass charges at a Kinney County border rally in May 2021, months before Governor Abbott announced the OLS trespass arrest program and even before Governor Abbott declared a state of disaster. 

The program that the Kinney County sheriff described then was remarkably similar to what is in place now in Texas — and, the sheriff stated, its purpose was to harm migrants by ensuring they had a criminal record. In July 2021, the sheriff and county attorney described the program again and also stated that they had repeatedly met with the governor. It appears likely, given this sequence of events, that Kinney County officials played a key role in Governor Abbott’s adoption of the migrant arrest program.

As the supplemental complaint details, Kinney County officials have expressed racist, xenophobic beliefs and have ties to anti-immigrant extremists. 

  • For example, the Kinney County sheriff has repeatedly appeared on white nationalist Steve Bannon’s podcast, where he expressed the false belief that “George Soros and crew” are pushing migrants into the United States to change the country’s “dynamics.” 
  • A speaker at Kinney County’s border rally repeated false claims that immigrants of a particular nationality are engaged in harvesting children’s organs; he also described staying up until 1 a.m. talking with the Kinney County attorney.
  • The previous speaker and the county attorney subsequently appeared at speaking engagements together.

The supplemental complaint also describes Kinney County’s partnership with a vigilante group that seeks to “disrupt” migrants–including in taking into custody migrants detained by the militia group. Kinney County officials’ potential role in Governor Abbott’s creation of the OLS trespass arrest program, in light of their extremism, further demonstrates the program’s roots in white supremacy.

The supplemental complaint calls on the Department of Justice to immediately open a Title VI investigation, if it has not already, and to state publicly, within the next two weeks, whether it has opened an investigation.

The full supplemental complaint is available here.

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