District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine has opened an investigation into whether southern border state governors misled immigrants as part of what he called a “political stunt” to transport them to Washington.
Racine told ProPublica and The Texas Tribune his office is examining whether immigrants were deceived by trip organizers before boarding buses for Washington, including several hundred who were bused from Texas under instructions from Gov. Greg Abbott and dropped near the official residence of Vice President Kamala Harris. Racine’s office has the authority to bring misdemeanor criminal charges or to file civil fraud cases.
Racine said that in interviews with his investigators, arriving immigrants “have talked persuasively about being misled, with talk about promised services.” He offered no specifics about the inquiry, including whether it is being handled by his office’s criminal or civil divisions. The attorney general’s office declined to answer further questions.
Various state and federal laws could apply to transporting immigrants across state lines. Racine’s office could look into whether anyone committed fraud by falsely promising jobs or services, whether there were civil rights violations or whether officials misused taxpayers’ money.
The Department of Justice is investigating alleged civil rights violations under Operation Lone Star, a multibillion-dollar border initiative announced last year by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, according to state records obtained by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune.
The Legislature last year directed more than $3 billion to border measures over the next two years, a bulk of which has gone to Operation Lone Star. Under the initiative, which Abbott said he launched to combat human and drug smuggling, the state has deployed more than 10,000 National Guard members and Department of Public Safety troopers to the border with Mexico and built some fencing. Thousands of immigrant men seeking to enter the country have been arrested for trespassing onto private property, and some have been kept in jail for weeks without charges being filed.
Since the operation’s launch, a number of news organizations, including ProPublica and the Tribune, have outlined a series of problems with state leaders’ claims of success, the treatment of National Guard members and alleged civil rights violations.
Federal prosecutors reached a settlement agreement this week with the construction company that built a troubled private border fence along the Rio Grande in South Texas.
The settlement caps off two and a half years of legal wrangling after the federal government sued Fisher Industries and its subsidiaries, alleging that the 18-foot-tall and 3-mile-long fence led to erosion so significant that it threatened to shift the border and could cause the structure to collapse into the river, impacting a major dam.
Under the agreement, the company must conduct quarterly inspections, maintain an existing gate that allows for the release of floodwaters and keep a $3 million bond, a type of insurance, for 15 years, or until the property is transferred to the government, to cover any expenses in case the structure fails.
Experts told ProPublica and The Texas Tribune that the settlement provides insufficient protection to the Rio Grande’s shoreline and leaves too much discretion to the builder when it comes to maintaining and inspecting the bollard fence.
“They’re putting Band-Aids on top of Band-Aids to fix the initial problem that they caused,” said Adriana E. Martinez, a Southern Illinois University Edwardsville professor who studies river systems. She said the settlement does not require enough from the company to prevent additional flooding or damage from the fence.
The settlement lets Fisher Industries select the places along the fence to inspect for damage, decide what triggers some repairs and reject any proposed changes to the maintenance plan suggested by the government. It also allows the company to police itself instead of requiring a third-party inspector, said Amy Patrick, a Houston forensic structural and civil engineer and court-recognized expert on wall construction.
“It appears as though they are trusting the contractor far more than I have seen other contractors trusted,” she said.
Brian Kolfage arrived in Texas three years ago pledging to help fulfill President Donald Trump’s promise of a “big, beautiful” wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. After pleading guilty to federal fraud charges last month, Kolfage leaves behind two small stretches of fencing that are mired in legal, environmental and permitting fights.
Kolfage, a 40-year-old Air Force veteran, faces more than five years in prison after pleading guilty to defrauding donors of hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to the wall effort. Despite the resolution of the criminal case, Kolfage and his We Build the Wall group still face a defamation suit brought by the National Butterfly Center, a nonprofit nature preserve in the Rio Grande Valley that he accused of promoting sex and human trafficking without evidence. In addition, the federal government has filed suit regarding one of his wall projects, alleging it was built in potential violation of an international treaty between the U.S. and Mexico.
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.