Judge says state effort to blunt illegal trafficking of people and drugs violates the law
Texas Governor Greg Abbott's effort to secure his state's border with Mexico amid record migrant flows has been thrown open to legal challenges after a judge found the Operation Lone Star program to be unconstitutional.
The potentially pivotal ruling came on Thursday, when Travis County District Court Judge Jan Soifer dismissed criminal charges against a migrant who was arrested for trespassing last September. The judge, who formerly chaired the Travis County Democratic Party, found that the Texas border crackdown violates the Constitution by challenging federal control over immigration policy.
The Republican governor launched Operation Lone Star last March, blaming President Joe Biden for the border crisis and saying that in lieu of federal law being enforced, the state would combat the smuggling of illegal aliens and drugs. Thousands of migrants have been arrested by Texas state troopers under the program. They have been charged under state laws, for such offenses as trespassing and criminal damage to property.
Kristin Etter, a lawyer who represents about 800 migrants arrested under Operation Lone Star, said Soifer's ruling "sets a clear pathway" for all such defendants to get their charges dismissed. She told the Austin American-Statesman newspaper that she's evaluating defense strategies for her clients, including citing the precedent set by Soifer's decision.
Abbott has argued that by failing to do its job of securing the border, the Biden administration has endangered the lives and property of Texans. Just last month, he hailed the start of construction on a state border wall project, picking up where former President Donald Trump left off.
"Open border policies are globalist policies that are destroying the United States of America, and that's why we're building the border wall," Abbott said. "That's why we have the National Guard on the border. That's why we are arresting and jailing these people who are coming across the border."
Illegal border crossings into the US surged to a 61-year high in 2021.