(Austin, Texas)—Today, major national and Texas immigrant and civil rights organizations jointly filed a Title VI discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice regarding “Operation Lone Star,” with the support of over 100 organizations. Operation Lonestar is an unlawful, xenophobic, and racist program under which Texas law enforcement officers target migrants for arrest, jailing, and criminal prosecution for the state criminal offense of “trespassing.” Texas state agencies channel these arrested migrants into a shadow criminal legal system that violates fundamental constitutional rights.
Repeated anti-immigrant public statements from Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Department of Public Safety officials emphasize the discriminatory intent of the program: to punish migrants and deter future immigration. The Title VI complaint analyzes affidavits from arresting Texas officers and advocates’ interviews with people arrested under the program. It finds clear indications of racial profiling, biased policing, and targeting of migrants for arrest.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. The Texas agencies perpetrating trespass arrests of migrants under “Operation Lone Star” depend upon federal dollars and target migrants on the basis of race, national origin, and immigration status. The complaint requests a formal U.S. Department of Justice investigation.
As the complaint states, Texas law enforcement officials have directed individuals near the border to a particular place–giving them the impression they have permission to be on the property–and then arrested them for trespassing. Governor Abbott has deployed the Texas National Guard to put up new fences near the border in an attempt to make crossing property criminal where it was not before–just to enable the arrest of migrants. Once arrested, individuals often spend weeks or months in Texas prisons known for deleterious conditions and without access to lawyers. Virtually all if not all of those arrested through “Operation Lone Star” are Black and Brown. The discriminatory intent and implementation of “Operation Lone Star” fits within a broader context of white supremacist rhetoric and racial animus by Texas officials.
“While fanning the flames of anti-immigrant hate, Governor Abbott has created an unlawful and separate state immigration system in Texas under the guise of state criminal law. He has saturated border communities with state troopers and National Guard in an outrageous effort to ensnare Black and Brown migrants in trespass arrests. Governor Abbott’s program is a racist and xenophobic attack on migrants and is contributing to a dangerous escalation in white supremacist rhetoric and vigilanteism in Texas. It is essential, and urgent, that the Department of Justice investigate Texas’s deeply discriminatory effort to set its own immigration policy by cruelly targeting Black and Brown migrants for criminal punishment.” Kate Huddleston, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Texas.
“The Department of Justice must investigate the state and local agencies implementing this illegal shadow immigration enforcement scheme. The investigation would be the first step taken by the Biden Administration to end Operation Lone Star, Abbott’s anti-immigrant, racist scheme that is funneling millions of dollars into police and prison expansion specifically targeted at migrants. As rural border communities suffer from real world problems like lack of access to healthcare, poor broadband infrastructure, and underfunded school rooms, the state and counties are instead militarizing border communities with taxpayer dollars.” Laura Peña, Legal Director of the Racial and Economic Justice Program at the Texas Civil Rights Project.
“If Gov. Abbott and the Texas agencies who participate in Operation Lone Star are left unchecked, the harm against communities of color will only increase. The ILRC stands firmly alongside state and national advocates calling on the Biden Administration to investigate Abbott’s deliberate disregard for his obligations under the Civil Rights Act. The Biden Administration must protect our vulnerable communities in Texas.” Priscilla Olivarez, Staff Attorney, Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC).
"Abbott's Operation Lone Star is propelled by overt racial profiling and rhetoric inciting white supremacist violence, makes a mockery of the law, and drives the rapid expansion of mass incarceration. The Biden Administration must immediately end its complicity by cutting funding to offices engaging in this program and refusing to deport migrants who have been subjected to these abuses." Claudia Muñoz, Co-Executive Director, Grassroots Leadership.
“Governor Abbott, state and local officials have marshaled billions of dollars and the vast resources of dozens of state and local agencies in service of the goals of fomenting and entrenching hate and incarcerating more Black and Brown people. The sham criminal legal system into which people arrested under Operation Lone Star are being channeled is working serious harm every day. We call upon the Department of Justice to investigate these abuses without delay.” Camilla Hsu, Managing Attorney, Litigation, Texas Fair Defense Project.
Title VI Complaint and NGO sign-on letter here.
ACLU TX: media [at] aclutx.org
TCRP: Leticia Rojas, media [at] texascivilrightsproject.org, 214-578-7651
TFDP: Camilla Hsu, chsu [at] fairdefense.org, 512-637-5220 x 111
Grassroots: Maria Reza, mreza [at] grassrootsleadership.org, 832-322-1255
ILRC: Carolina Chau, media [at] ilrc.org