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.
For prosecutors, Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz was the man who in the span of 34 seconds fired 16 shots through the border fence, killing an unarmed Mexican teenager.
To the defense, he was an agent scared to death, operating in a busy drug-trafficking area, who had to make a split-second decision to protect himself and his fellow law enforcers from a group of rock throwers — including 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez.
The government and defense presented their cases in U.S. District Court in Tucson over four weeks. On April 23, the jury found him not guilty of second-degree murder and couldn’t reach a verdict on voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.
The government decided to retry Swartz on the lesser charges. The new trial is scheduled for late October.
Follow my coverage of the case below. Latest story is first.
This spring, with Donald Trump’s “build the wall” message resonating so powerfully that he became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, I was part of a team of Daily Star reporters that visited the southern border states. Our goal was to go beyond the political rhetoric and talk with people who live and work along the international line.
Nearly 80 percent of Arizona deportations last fiscal year came from people caught at the border — higher than the 64 percent nationwide, data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement show.
While the number of people being deported after being picked up by ICE inside the country is falling, the share of those caught at the border and formally removed continues to rise.
The Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute attributes the rise to sweeping legislation in 1996 that led to quicker and more formal deportations, more resources and policy changes that represent a new historical reality where more than 400,000 people can get removed in a year.
While the Obama administration is getting close to deporting 2 million people, agents use prosecutorial discretion to prioritize who gets removed.
Immigration authorities in Arizona declined to show up 13 percent of the time that a Department of Public Safety officer called regarding someone they suspected was in the country illegally. They most often cited a manpower shortage, a child in the vehicle or the absence of a criminal record for declining such a call. The DPS data were reviewed by the Arizona Daily Star as part of an investigation of the state’s immigration law, SB 1070.
What this shows is a dichotomy of a system at the border where there’s a near zero tolerance, with immigrants increasingly subject to formal removal and criminal charges, and greater flexibility with priorities in the interior, said a Migration Policy Institute report about deportations released Tuesday.
A Salvadoran brother and sister were trekking through the Southern Arizona desert when he had to stay behind because he couldn’t keep up.
The smuggler said another group was on its way and would pick up the 18-year-old, encouraging his younger sister to go on.
That was three months ago, and the Salvadoran Consulate in Tucson has not been able to find him, Consul Ludmila Aguirre said during the Border Patrol Border Safety Initiative Wednesday morning while standing next to a 30-foot rescue beacon the agency uses to help migrants in distress.
While the number of apprehensions has decreased in the Border Patrol Tucson Sector, the rate of people dying has remained constant. Since fiscal year 2011, there have been 16 border crosser remains found for every 10,000 apprehensions — only falling slightly to 15 in 2012.
“Addressing this issue of border deaths in the desert is everyone’s business,” Tucson Sector Border Patrol Chief Manuel Padilla told a group of humanitarian organization members, consuls and journalists before the Border Patrol Search Trauma and Rescue demonstrated a rope technical extraction with a Black Hawk helicopter in Brown Canyon, just east of Baboquivari Peak.