By BETHANY BLANKLEY
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – Since Gov. Greg Abbott launched Texas’ border security mission known as Operation Lone Star, Texas law enforcement officers have apprehended an unprecedented number of foreign nationals who’ve entered the U.S. illegally. They’ve also seized enough fentanyl to kill more than the entire U.S. population.
Since OLS was launched in March 2021, thousands of officers from police departments, sheriff’s offices, State Police, Texas National Guard, and others have apprehended more than 336,000 foreign nationals as of Dec. 29. This includes more than 100,000 apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley alone. They’ve also made over 23,000 criminal arrests, with more than 20,000 felony charges reported. These numbers do not include apprehensions made by U.S. Border Patrol.
OLS is filling “the dangerous gaps left by the Biden Administration’s refusal to secure the border,” Gov. Abbott said. “Every individual who is apprehended or arrested and every ounce of drugs seized would have otherwise made their way into communities across Texas and the nation due to President Biden’s open border policies.”
Texas National Guard and Department of Public Safety OLS efforts expanded in July, Gov. Abbott said, after he issued an executive order authorizing officers to apprehend foreign nationals illegally entering between ports of entry and returning them to ports of entry, handing them over to Border Patrol. The order cites U.S. and Texas constitutional provisions but doesn’t declare an invasion. It was issued two days after six county judges were the first to declare an invasion on July 5.
Since then, judges and commissioners from at least 40 counties have called on Gov. Abbott to declare an invasion and repel it: meaning, prevent illegal entry and return illegal foreign nationals to Mexico. Gov. Abbott’s July 7 order, local officials point out, doesn’t change what Guardsmen and DPS were already doing: apprehending people between ports of entry and handing them over to Border Patrol agents, as The Center Square began reporting last year.
While Gov. Abbott has yet to declare an invasion, he was the first Texas governor to begin building a border wall on state soil, the first to sign memoranda of understanding with four Mexican governors, and the first to designate Mexican cartels as foreign terrorist organizations.
New OLS task forces also were created this year, including a DPS task force to pursue gotaways in the Rio Grande Valley. In early December, the Texas National Guard added 45 drone pilots to help OLS elite brush teams locate and arrest gotaways, the term used by Border Patrol to categorize those who illegally enter the U.S. in between ports of entry to evade capture by law enforcement.
Earlier this year, Goliad County Sheriff Roy Boyd created the first OLS Task Force, working with 20 law enforcement entities to thwart cartel activity along Highway 59.
The governor also repeatedly met with law enforcement officers statewide to target cartel and gang-related human and drug smuggling and trafficking and address the fentanyl crisis. He met with forensic scientists in Houston crime labs, University of Houston scientists developing a fentanyl vaccine, and with state lawmakers to introduce legislation to enhance fentanyl and human smuggling penalties in the next legislative session.
Since last March, DPS officers have seized more than 354 million lethal doses of fentanyl, enough to kill more than the entire population of the United States. OLS officers also uncovered stash houses being used for human smuggling, and the state began offering greater rewards for those who help identify them.
Overall, since November 2021, at least 6,128 Texas National Guardsmen and women were stationed along the Texas-Mexico border; an additional 3,700 were deployed elsewhere through OLS. Since March 2021, more than 1,600 state troopers have been working with hundreds of officers from local sheriff’s offices and police departments through OLS.
Most recently, Gov. Abbott called up an additional 400 National Guard troops who were deployed to El Paso to respond to a crisis created by several thousand people arriving in large groups, reportedly brought by cartel operatives, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the Mexican government.
He also called for an investigation into NGOs reportedly facilitating illegal immigration. Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office launched separate investigations into nonprofits allegedly facilitating illegal immigration and sued the Biden administration multiple times over immigration and border security policies, so far winning most cases in court.
To provide relief to local communities, in April Gov. Abbott directed the state to bus illegal foreign nationals to Washington, D.C., who were “unlawfully released into the U.S. by the Biden administration” and voluntarily agreed to be transported. Three Democratic-controlled cities were added as destinations, with more expected to follow.
Texas has bused over 9,000 to Washington, D.C., since April 13; over 4,900 to New York City since August 5; over 1,500 to Chicago since August 31; and over 600 to Philadelphia since Nov. 15. Shortly after receiving buses of several hundred people, the mayors of these cities declared emergencies.
The 16,000 bused from Texas represent a fraction of the nearly 1.8 million who were apprehended or evaded law enforcement in Texas alone in fiscal 2022, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data obtained by The Center Square from a Border Patrol agent.
Texas saw over half of more than 3.3 million illegal entries reported by Border Patrol for all nine southwest border sectors in the fiscal year.
OLS border security efforts have cost Texas taxpayers more than $4 billion, money Gov. Abbott argues Texas shouldn’t have to spend and the federal government should reimburse. But Texas will continue to take “unprecedented action to protect Americans and secure our southern border,” Gov. Abbott said, “until Congress acts or the Biden Administration does its constitutionally required job.”