Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star” immigration stunt sent Texas National Guard troops to elite private ranches, already with their own private security, more than an hour from the border, for dubious reasons.
March 17, 2022

Abbott was obviously more interested in Operation Lone Star as a re-election tool than in any serious plan to beef up border security. From The Texas Tribune:

Faced with a humanitarian crisis along the Rio Grande, pressured by conservative rivals and chided by right-wing cable pundits, Gov. Greg Abbott decided last fall to move thousands of troops to the border as quickly as possible. And the Texas Military Department, which oversees the state’s National and State Guard branches, did all it could to comply — with haste.

Never before has Texas — or any other state — involuntarily activated so many troops under state active duty authority for such a long-term mission. Nor has it been done so quickly.

The troops seem to be little more than pawns in Abbott’s border theater. In February, The Tribune and Military Times obtained the results of a survey that found frustration, anxiety and anger prevailed. That matches up with a Wall Street Journal report C&L’s John Amato cited in January:

A large part of the problem with the troops stems from boredom, say Texas National Guard members deployed at the border. Many members of the National Guard, who don’t have authority to enforce immigration laws, say they do very little during the day, and frustration has risen amid difficult living conditions, financial stress and months away from their families. Some have been on the mission longer than overseas deployments, without the same support resources, they said.

Earlier this week, Abbott replaced the heavily-criticized head of the Texas Military Department without noting that she had come under heavy criticism for the deplorable troop conditions.

On Wednesday, The Texas Tribune reported the strange decision to post about 30 troops at large, private ranches:

Placed at spots along U.S. Route 77 running north to Corpus Christi — including the sprawling and renowned King Ranch and the GOP-connected Armstrong Ranch — the troops were ostensibly meant to deter migrants and smugglers who might cross through private ranches to avoid detection at the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint near the city of Sarita.

But service members with firsthand knowledge of the mission told The Texas Tribune that troops rarely saw migrants from their posts nearly 80 miles away from the border and were unable to pursue them if they did because they were not authorized to enter the private ranches if they saw migrants cutting through.

In practice, service members said, they stood around for hours, staring at each other and the highway, outside the private ranches — some of which had their own private security.

“We really don’t understand why we are there,” a service member told the Tribune. “We’re essentially mall security for ranches that already have paid security details to protect them.”

Nobody else had a good explanation either. The King and Armstrong ranches did not request the troops. They were “removed in February, shortly after The Texas Tribune began asking questions about the deployment,” The Tribune reported. Abbott’s office declined to comment.

It reeks of cronyism. State officials told The Tribune that the personnel were deployed to the area “at the request of the Kenedy County sheriff’s office, a local property rights association, and local landowners.” I'll bet that at least some of those folks are big donors to Abbott. Although officials insisted that the troops had deterred migrant traffic and crime, they could not provide any evidence of that:

While the state troopers and National Guard troops were there, [DPS Spokesperson Ericka] Miller said, vehicle pursuits and reports of damaged properties dropped. But Miller could not provide any official statistics on the number of apprehensions or arrests from DPS before or after service members were deployed.

The Texas Tribune filed a public records request for those statistics, but DPS said it had no responsive documents. The Tribune also filed a request with the Texas Military Department.

Fortunately, Beto O’Rourke, who is challenging Abbott in November, is on the case. In late January, he blasted the operation and noted that the $2 billion Abbott is spending for his PR ploy could have been spent in ways that would have really helped Texans.

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