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The Justice Department is investigating Operation Lone Star in Texas for alleged civil rights violations

The Justice Department is investigating alleged civil rights abuses under Operation Lone Star, a multibillion-dollar border initiative announced by Gov. Greg Abbott last year, according to state records from ProPublica and The Texas Tribune.

The Legislature last year allocated more than $3 billion for border measures over the next two years, much of which was spent on Operation Lone Star. As part of Abbott’s initiative to fight people and drug smuggling, the state has deployed more than 10,000 National Guard members and Department of Public Safety soldiers along the border with Mexico and erected some fences. Thousands of migrant men attempting to enter the country were arrested for trespassing on private property and some were held in prison for weeks without charge.

Since the beginning of the operation, a number of news organizations, including ProPublica and The Tribune, have detailed a range of issues with heads of state’s claims of success, treatment of National Guard members and alleged civil rights abuses.

An investigation by Tribune, ProPublica and The Marshall Project found that state officials included off-border arrests and nationwide drug seizures in touting the operation’s achievements. The news organizations also revealed that trespassing cases accounted for the largest proportion of the operation’s arrests. DPS stopped counting some charges, including cockfighting, sexual assault and stalking, after publications began asking questions about their ties to border security.

Another investigation by the Tribune and Army Times detailed problems with National Guard deployment, including reports of late payments to soldiers, shortages of critical equipment and poor living conditions. Previous Army Times reports have also tracked suicides by soldiers linked to the operation.

Angela Dodge, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said she could not “comment on the existence or lack of a potential investigation or case on a matter not otherwise part of the public court records.”

“Generally, cases are brought to us for possible prosecutorial review by a variety of law enforcement agencies — federal, state, and local — after they investigate an alleged violation of federal law,” Dodge wrote in an email. “We review each such case based on the evidence and what can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in federal court.”

But at least two Texas agencies involved in running the border initiative have pointed to an investigation by the DOJ into records obtained by ProPublica and the Tribune through the Texas Public Information Act.

In an internal email in May, DPS officials said the DOJ wanted to investigate whether Operation Lone Star violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin by institutions operating receive federal funding.

According to the emails, the federal government requested documents containing implementation plans, agreements with landowners and training information for states that supported Operation Lone Star by deploying law enforcement officers and National Guard members to Texas.

“In case you don’t already know, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is investigating Operation Lone Star,” Kaylyn Betts, assistant legal counsel for the DPS, wrote in a May 23 email to a department official. She added that the agency should respond in a timely and complete manner.

In a letter sent to the state attorney general on Friday, the Texas Department of Justice also cited a “formal investigation” by the DOJ into Operation Lone Star. The agency that manages the state’s prison system pointed to the investigation while fighting the release of public records requested by the news organizations.

In the letter, the department’s assistant attorney general wrote that the DOJ is investigating whether the state agency subjects people detained as part of the border operation to “different and unlawful conditions of detention based on their perceived or actual race or national origin.” “

Neither agency has released information about the DOJ’s inquiries.

Neither the DPS nor the Texas office of the attorney general, which represents the state, responded to requests for comment. Amanda Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Justice, said in an email that her agency provided the DOJ with the requested information.

“The agency has and continues to comply with all state and federal laws as the state of Texas responds to the ongoing crises at the border,” she wrote in an email to the news organizations.

State and federal lawmakers, as well as civil rights and immigrant groups, have repeatedly called for an investigation into Operation Lone Star. In the letters to the DOJ and Department of Homeland Security, the groups have cited reports from the Tribune showing that some immigrants have been illegally detained or held in jail for too long due to delays by prosecutors, in violation of state law.

“It is of vital urgency that the Biden administration not only investigate, but also hold accountable for violations of Title VI, which protects the civil rights of the people of South Texas,” said Kate Huddleston, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. The nonprofit, along with more than 100 other groups, filed a 50-page Title VI complaint with the DOJ in December, asking it to investigate alleged civil rights violations.

Operation Lone Star, Huddleston added, “targets individuals to punish them more severely and subject them to a separate state penal system created specifically for this purpose and fraught with civil rights abuses.”

Abbott’s office said the arrests and prosecutions under the operation were “entirely constitutional.”

Lexi Churchill contributed to the coverage.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that educates and collaborates with Texans on public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

https://abc13.com/operation-lone-star-under-investigation-civil-rights-violations-discrimination-claims-title-vi/12024248/ The Justice Department is investigating Operation Lone Star in Texas for alleged civil rights violations

Dais Johnston

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