Democratic members of Congress are asking the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security to investigate Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s homegrown border enforcement operation.
Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas and 25 other congressional members signed a letter sent Friday to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
The letter asks for an immediate investigation into Abbott’s “effort to establish a separate state immigration policy,” referring to what Abbott has dubbed Operation Lone Star.
Through the operation, Abbott has used state law officers, police, Texas National Guard and law enforcement from other states on the Texas-Mexico border.
On Thursday, the Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Military Department said the operation has led to the seizure of illegal drugs and arrests of tens of thousands of people.
The congressional members said the program has wreaked havoc on the state’s judicial system, militarized the Texas border and its communities and interfered with the federal immigration system.
A state judge ordered the release of hundreds of people arrested under Abbott’s operation after they were detained for weeks without charges and unable to contact lawyers.
Lawyers in the case of two men who were held for more than 50 days without charges said Abbott’s operation is targeting Mexican and Central American men.
Many of the arrests have occurred in counties without large enough staff to process the arrests, overwhelming legal offices and leading to charges failing to be filed on time and other problems.
Castro said the operation is a likely violation of the supremacy clause of the Constitution. The clause gives federal laws and the Constitution priority over conflicting state laws.
The agencies should investigate whether Abbott is violating the due process rights of the people arrested, Castro said.
He asked the Department of Homeland Security to clarify the immigration process for people detained through the Operation Lone Star program. Some have been turned over to Customs and Border Protection.
“We also request that DHS provide migrants who enter into its custody after release from state custody with timely and regular telephone access so that they can inform their loved ones and attorneys of their location,” the letter said.
Some lawyers and advocates have complained about the Biden administration's cooperation with the state in the operation.
On Thursday, Texas officials said that since March they’ve seized thousands of pounds of illegal drugs and more than $5.4 million in currency and apprehended 149,000 people, ValleyCentral reported.
Abbott, who is up for re-election in 2022 and considered a potential 2024 presidential candidate, launched the state-run operation, which has been welcomed by some border residents.
“Texans deserve to have the rule of law enforced on the Texas border, and that is exactly what Governor Abbott is doing,” Abbott’s press secretary Renae Eze said in an emailed statement.
She said President Joe Biden's immigration policies are to blame for for a “crisis” on the border and in the country. She said Abbott is addressing that.
The state has provided funding for the operation and counties. The governor signed a bill last month that adds another nearly $2 billon for border enforcement, including money for a border wall Abbott is building.
The state has used two prison units as lockups for the people picked up along the border, in some cases on allegations of criminal trespass.