Texas Arrests Illegal Aliens for Trespassing—Democrats Urge DOJ to Shut It Down

By Charlotte Cuthbertson
Charlotte Cuthbertson
Charlotte Cuthbertson
Senior Reporter
Charlotte Cuthbertson is a senior reporter with The Epoch Times who primarily covers border security and the opioid crisis.
February 1, 2022Updated: February 3, 2022

KINNEY COUNTY, Texas—A group of 50 Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives is urging the departments of Justice and Homeland Security to investigate Operation Lone Star, a border security initiative launched by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in March 2021.

“Operation Lone Star uses state criminal law to target Black and Latino migrants for punishment,” the Democrats’ Jan. 26 letter to the federal agencies alleges.

The politicians want the federal government to ​​use “all tools at your disposal to ensure the end of this policy.”

In June 2021, as part of Operation Lone Star (OLS), Abbott authorized Texas Department of Public Safety troops to arrest and charge illegal immigrants with trespassing if they were found to be on state or private land without consent.

The OLS budget funded jail space for alleged illegal immigrant trespassers, defense counsel, and prosecution resources. The governor also sent more law enforcement officers to beleaguered border regions to assist in the arrest of trespassers and smugglers who were transporting illegal aliens.

Since July last year, 2,681 illegal alien trespassers have been arrested, and the number of participating counties has increased from two to six, with more preparing to join.

Kinney County, which is prosecuting the vast majority of cases, has made a total of 2,609 arrests as of Jan. 28, according to county attorney Brent Smith.

Of those, 1,257 have bonded out of jail, and 264 have made pleas of no contest or guilty and have been released with time served. About five have pleaded not guilty and want to go to trial, Smith said.

The illegal aliens arrested on ranches in Kinney County aren’t turning themselves over to Border Patrol and seeking asylum, Smith said.

“They’re being smuggled across. And then whenever law enforcement locates them, they’re running. They’re on the run from the law. They’re not trying to surrender at all,” Smith told The Epoch Times on Jan. 31.

“If they were trying to claim asylum, they’d be doing that at the port of entry, or the first law enforcement they come to. But instead, they’re evading law enforcement—and they’re destroying property while they do it.”

The number of illegal aliens evading Border Patrol in the Del Rio sector, in which Kinney County sits, was estimated to be around 10,000 per month last July, according to numbers obtained by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas). Many of them pass through Kinney County, either on foot or being smuggled in vehicles, on their way to the large cities of San Antonio, Houston, and Austin.

The letter from Texas Democrats suggests that OLS likely violates “protections afforded under the United States Constitution and state and federal law.”

Smith said his small county has struggled to keep up with the volume of prosecutions—he went from about six cases a month to more than 30 per day.

But the law has safeguards in place to protect alleged criminals.

“For instance, right now, my assistant prosecuting attorney is in a writ of habeas corpus hearing, which is triggered when more than 30 days elapses before there’s a complaint filed. And when that occurs, they’re eligible to get a reduced bond or a PR bond,” Smith said.

Epoch Times Photo
Kinney County Attorney Brent Smith in his office in Brackettville, Texas, on Oct. 29, 2021. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

The Democrats’ letter also alleges, “From its inception, Operation Lone Star has suffered from Constitutional deficiencies that upend our federal system of government.”

The letter is addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

“Governor Abbott has unilaterally set this state immigration policy and created a system of state immigration enforcement to be carried out by various state agencies,” it states.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton defended the OLS initiative, saying it’s “shocking” that anyone would call it unconstitutional.

“We have a right in this state to protect our citizens,” Paxton said at a press conference on Jan. 28.

“When the federal government stares us in the face, invites people across the border, and people have cartel members walking across their property, threatening their lives, exposing them to COVID, running drugs, running human trafficking rings—and then we’re told that it’s unconstitutional for the governor to put together a program with our great law enforcement officials to protect our citizens, to me it’s absolutely ludicrous and wrong.”

Paxton said applying state charges to illegal immigrants is Texas’s way of dealing with the current crisis.

“If they’re violating state laws, we are starting to have more forces down here that can arrest those people,” he said.

Kinney-DPS-52 aliens-510A9314
A total of 52 illegal immigrants from Mexico and Honduras wait to be booked for criminal trespass after being arrested by Texas State Troopers on local ranches, at the Kinney County Sheriffs Office in Brackettville, Texas, on Aug. 8, 2021. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

In 2021, Border Patrol apprehended more than 1.3 million illegal aliens entering Texas from Mexico. Hundreds of thousands more are estimated to have evaded capture.

Smith said as far as the accusation that the OLS program targets black and Latino illegal aliens, the probable cause affidavits he reviews don’t list ethnicity.

“It doesn’t come into play with the facts and what the law says. So that argument is not only incorrect, but very presumptuous and racist in and of itself that race has anything to do with it,” Smith said. He said the first trespassing case he prosecuted last year involved two white male American citizens.

“If those politicians actually cared about their constituents as much as they say they do, they would be writing a letter to DHS to say the border is open and their constituents are put in danger.”

The Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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