Reality Check: Seven Times Texas Leaders Misled the Public About Operation Lone Star

Photo Illustration by John Whitlock for ProPublica/Texas Tribune/The Marshall Project. Source images: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune; Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune, Jordan Vondehaar for The Texas Tribune

Earlier this month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ratcheted up pressure on President Joe Biden’s administration by expanding the state’s sweeping border crackdown, announcing that he would bus immigrants to Washington, D.C., after they were apprehended for illegally crossing the border, as well as search commercial trucks entering Texas from Mexico.

During an April 6 press conference launching the additional efforts, Abbott did not explain that the busing is voluntary for immigrants. Texas cities and counties where migrants seeking to stay in the country are dropped off by the federal government must also request such a transport out of state before it occurs.

Then, about a week after his directive for vehicle safety inspections drew criticism for hampering border commerce, Abbott rescinded it, saying he’d reached agreements with four Mexican governors to strengthen security south of the border. The agreements mostly included measures already in place, but the governor claimed on social media last week that they demonstrated Texas had accomplished more to secure the border in two days than Biden had done during his time in office.

The measures are the latest examples of how Abbott and other state officials have used incomplete and sometimes misleading statements when promoting the purpose and effectiveness of Operation Lone Star.

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Examining Nearly Two Decades of Taxpayer-Funded Border Operations

hoto illustration by John Whitlock for ProPublica/The Texas Tribune/The Marshall Project. Source images: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune; Michael Gonzalez for The Texas Tribune; Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune; Verónica G. Cárdenas for ProPublica/The Texas Tribune

In October 2005, Texas Gov. Rick Perry traveled to the border city of Laredo and announced Operation Linebacker, a new initiative that he said would protect the state’s residents from terrorist groups such as al-Qaida.

Without pointing to evidence, Perry said such terrorist groups, along with drug cartels and gangs, were attempting to exploit the U.S.-Mexico border. A press release from the governor’s office said Perry warned that after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, criminal organizations could “import terror, illegal narcotics and weapons of mass destruction.”

Perry said Texas would step in to fill the gaps left by the federal government, increasing state law enforcement presence along the border and providing new investigative tools. He stopped short of directly attacking President George W. Bush or the Republican-led Congress. “The state of Texas cannot wait for the federal government to implement needed border security measures,” Perry said, explaining that the state would use $10 million in funding that included federal grants for the operation. Two months later, the governor highlighted his border security efforts while announcing his reelection campaign.

Over the next 17 years, Perry and his successor, Gov. Greg Abbott, persuaded the Texas Legislature to spend billions of dollars on border security measures that included at least nine operations and several smaller initiatives. Each time, the governors promised that the state would do what the federal government had failed to: secure the border.

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