South Texans worry Operation Lone Star’s police surge will be a repeat of 2014 mass ticketing of locals

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Gov. Greg Abbott launched Operation Lone Star on Saturday — an effort to stop Mexican cartels from smuggling drugs and people into Texas by surging state police and National Guard forces to the border.

South Texas leaders welcomed the arrival of help but were reminded of a similar effort in 2014 that upset local communities.

“You know, locals really didn’t like it,” said Sandra Sanchez, the South Texas correspondent for Border Report. “They were issuing a lot of tickets for minor traffic infractions. Basically, it caused to kind of divide the communities here.”

At that time, Dept. of Public Safety troopers could be seen almost every mile of U.S. 83, which runs along the U.S.-Mexico border from Brownsville to Laredo before continuing north.

An analysis of DPS border offenses from 2014-16, part of KXAN’s “Border Splurge” investigation, found that only 6% were for felony drug possession and less than 1% were human smuggling offenses.

Most of the offenses during that time were for drunk driving and misdemeanor drug violations.

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera told KXAN that he welcomes the arrival of DPS troopers and has been assured that their presence this time will focus on organized crime.

“For that reason, I think this initiative, probably, will play a good role,” Vera said.

According to DPS reports, personnel devoted to border security dropped by 330 from 2016 to 2020.
Abbott is now sending an unspecified number of DPS and National Guard personnel to the border.

“The crisis at our southern border continues to escalate because of Biden Administration policies that refuse to secure the border and invite illegal immigration,” Abbott said in a statement. “Texas supports legal immigration but will not be an accomplice to the open border policies that cause, rather than prevent, a humanitarian crisis in our state and endanger the lives of Texans. We will surge the resources and law enforcement personnel needed to confront this crisis.”

Both the Governor’s Office and DPS declined invitations to be interviewed for this story.

South Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Laredo Democrat, said it’s clear there is a crisis at the border.

The Biden administration is facing a spike of unaccompanied minors and, according to Reuters, 100,000 migrants were detained at the border in February — an increase of 78,000 from a month earlier.

But Abbott’s operation has a different focus.

“If they can stop any drugs or smugglers, that’s good,” Cuellar said. “But, remember, the unaccompanied kids and the family units, they won’t be able to touch them all.”

KXAN politics reporter John Engel will have a full report at 6 p.m.

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