Critics of a controversial Texas law-enforcement campaign against migration across the Mexican border say it has come at an immense cost, reaching hundreds of thousands of dollars for each person arrested.
With roughly US$5-billion already spent on Operation Lone Star, Texas has spent about US$400,000 for each person arrested and processed through two designated processing facilities in the state’s Val Verde and Jim Hogg counties, according to figures calculated by the Texas Fair Defence Project (TFDP), a litigation and advocacy group.
Many asylum seekers and economic migrants are arrested for misdemeanour trespass under the program, which has deployed thousands of officers and built new physical obstructions along the border with Mexico, including a floating buoy barrier in parts of the Rio Grande that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has condemned as “inhumane.”
Texas has also bussed more than 33,000 migrants to Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago and other cities under the program, which has faced a growing number of legal challenges. Those opposed to the program accuse Texas of acting outside its authority as a state.
But a large portion of the costs of Operation Lone Star, a joint project between the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Military Department, are devoted to arresting and processing migrants, said Geoff Burkhart, TFDP executive director. That amounts to a large dollar figure relative to the number of arrests made.
“To spend it in this way and to have such piddly results is an embarrassment to Texas, and I think it’s a misuse of taxpayer dollars,” he said.
Across the U.S., the full national cost of policing and corrections amounted to $134,400 per incarcerated person in 2016, according to American Action Forum, a conservative policy institute.
The state of Texas disputes the US$400,000 estimated spending per arrest, calling it inaccurate, although it has not provided its own figure.
Texas authorities say Operation Lone Star has led to 33,600 criminal arrests, although critics say that figure includes unrelated arrests, such as for crimes like domestic violence.
“Every illegal immigrant who is apprehended, every criminal who is arrested, and every ounce of drugs seized under Operation Lone Star would have otherwise made their way into communities across Texas and the nation due to President Joe Biden’s reckless open border policies,” Andrew Mahaleris, a spokesman for Governor Greg Abbott, said in a statement.
After more than two years of Operation Lone Star, Texas has come under increasing scrutiny for its conduct toward migrants. Last year, the state disbanded an intelligence wing of the operation after whistleblower reports into what may amount to an unauthorized foreign intelligence operation, The Texas Tribune and Military Times reported recently.
In July, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Texas for its use of floating buoy barriers, which it says were installed in navigable waters without federal authorization. Last week, councillors in Los Angeles voted to explore legal options against Texas, after the state began bussing hundreds of migrants to the California city.
“These motions are about investigating whether Governor Greg Abbott committed kidnapping, human trafficking or any other crimes when he sent vulnerable families on a 23-hour bus ride with little or no food or water,” said Hugo Soto-Martinez, who co-sponsored the motions.
Governor Abbott has said the migrants’ needs were provided for, and accused Los Angeles of hypocrisy, since the same city council also voted to become a sanctuary city in June. “LA experiences a fraction of what overwhelmed Texas border towns face DAILY. Don’t threaten Texas – tell Biden to secure the border,” Governor Abbott wrote on Twitter.
In a New York Post article, he also pledged to pursue a legal campaign to the U.S. Supreme Court “to make clear that Texas – as well as other states – has full authority to secure the border.”
Governor Abbott accused the President of being “more concerned with preventing Texas from protecting our sovereignty than stopping transnational criminals from exploiting his border crisis.”
The rapid increase in numbers of asylum seekers and economic migrants has placed new pressure on southern states, with legal ripples across the country.
In July, for example, New York filed suit against 30 counties who have blocked asylum seekers – after New York State itself began bussing out migrants, both to Southern U.S. states and, earlier this year, to Canada.
Texas has won plaudits for its actions from some other conservative states.
But human-rights and legal advocates have documented a series of problems with the state’s campaign, with some migrants not provided proper legal representation and others detained after the dismissal of their cases.
Operation Lone Star has been created on top of the immigration system, which in many cases deports migrants after they are arrested by state authorities, Mr. Burkhart said.
“The criminal legal system is a more expensive way to address migration issues than the immigration system,” he said.
“We’re really just piling on costs – and largely to make a political point,” he added. “It has not made Texans safer. It has not even deterred immigration, as best we can tell.”