For the past year, thousands of Texas National Guard members and state troopers have been sweeping through brush along the Rio Grande and cruising border-town roadways. Their eyes scan for the cartel operatives and smugglers whom Gov. Greg Abbott vowed to hold at bay when he launched his multibillion-dollar campaign to secure the border. More often, the troopers arrest men like Bartolo, a Mexican farmworker who came to the U.S. looking for work. They’ve also slapped cuffs on asylum-seekers like Gastón, a human rights attorney who said he fled Venezuela after being targeted by the Maduro regime for defending political opponents, reports the Texas Tribune.
Though they don’t fit the specter of the hardened criminals that Abbott mentioned when launching his border security initiative, men like Bartolo and Gastón are typical of the thousands arrested under Operation Lone Star, which is intended to combat drug and human smuggling. In July, four months after the operation started, Abbott announced that, with the permission of landowners, the state for the first time would punish people suspected of illegally crossing the border by arresting them on suspicion of trespassing on private property. The unprecedented “catch-and-jail” system allowed the governor to skirt constitutional restrictions that bar states from enforcing federal immigration law. Of the more than 7,200 arrests made by state police over seven months, about 40 percent involved only charges of trespassing on private property, finds an analysis of Texas Department of Public Safety data. In February, the majority of the border operation’s arrests were of people booked solely for trespassing.