Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and state lawmakers shifted $1 billion in federal coronavirus aid to help pay for their campaign to arrest migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, exposing gaps in a law meant to bolster the U.S. response to the pandemic, the Washington Post reports.. Relying on the availability of generous federal relief funds, Texas repeatedly rerouted state money toward its controversial immigration crackdown — all without leaving a massive hole in its budget. Critics say the money would have been put to better use applied to a public health crisis that has killed more than 86,000 people in the state. The trouble centers on Operation Lone Star, an initiative announced by Abbott last year, when he promised that law enforcement would “start arresting everybody” crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. The campaign, which detains migrants on state trespassing and other charges, relies on expensive deployments of National Guard troops.
Civil rights groups have derided the effort as discriminatory — and some have urged the Biden administration to intervene — calling it a political stunt by a Republican governor who harbors aspirations for the presidency. The operation has seen Texas send buses of arrested migrants to other cities as Abbott argues his state “should not have to bear the burden” at the border. Texas this year transferred money away from its public health and safety agencies and to the governor’s office to administer Operation Lone Star. That cash, totaling nearly $1 billion, was available because the state had backfilled those same public health and safety agencies with stimulus funds it received from Washington. The moves appear legal under the stimulus law known as the 2020 Cares Act. Congress never prohibited states from rejiggering their budgets to take full advantage of a program called the Coronavirus Relief Fund, which aimed to help cities and states pay front-line workers, buy supplies and tend to other pandemic needs. The approach helped states save their money, which some local governments reinvested in efforts to arrest the spread of the virus. Others, like Texas, seized on the federal program to redirect their newly found savings for unrelated uses — including immigration enforcement.