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Despite criticism, Gov. Abbott touts border operation as one of his major successes

Gov. Greg Abbott with several National Guard members on Border
Julio Cortez
Associated Press
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, right, shakes a National Guard member's hand after speaking during a news conference along the Rio Grande, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, in Del Rio, Texas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

In a report out Tuesday, Abbott praised Operation Lone Star. Since its inception early last year, OLS has led to the seizure of hard drugs and apprehensions of alleged criminals in Texas. But the mission has also been plagued by suicides and reports of mismanagement.

Gov. Greg Abbott released a report Tuesday highlighting what he called the state’s accomplishments over the last year and named his controversial border operation as one of the major successes under his leadership.

Abbott’s praise for the border mission, called Operation Lone Star, comes amid growing criticism from both sides of the aisle following revelations of suicides, poor working conditions, and pay issues among Texas National Guard troops deployed to the state’s southern border as part of the effort.

The new report, called the 2022 Report to the People of Texas, is the fourth of its kind since Abbott took office in 2015 and is released in place of the state of the state speech given during the Legislative session.

Operation Lone Star began in March 2021 when an influx of Texas DPS troopers and thousands of Texas National Guard units were sent to the state’s southern border. Abbott said the move was in response to what he called the Biden administration’s failure to secure the border. Part of the effort includes arresting migrants and prosecuting them on state charges of trespassing.

“The border crisis doesn’t just affect Texans living along the border; it’s being felt by communities throughout Texas and the United States,” Abbott said in the report. “With an uptick in deadly drugs like fentanyl, dangerous gang activity, and human trafficking across our state, I have taken significant action to secure the border in the wake of the federal government’s inaction.”

Customs and Border Protection agents encountered more than 2 million unauthorized people at the southern border during the 2021 calendar year, which was a record high. That figure includes apprehensions of undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers who surrendered to authorities, border crossers deemed “inadmissible” by agents at ports of entries, and people who tried to enter the country multiple times.

In December, Army Times reported there had been four deaths by suicide among National Guard units deployed as part of Operation Lone Star. Guard members have also complained of delays in pay, cuts to tuition assistance and a decrease in morale, prompting criticism of the governor’s mission from Democrats and Republicans, Texas Standard reported.

Abbott said during a campaign event last month that the suicides were “extraordinarily hurtful” but added his critics were playing politics with the issue.

There have also been two accidental deaths associated with the operation, the most recent occurring Monday, reported Army Times.

More than 85,000 migrants have been apprehended and referred to federal agencies under Operation Lone Star according to Abbott’s report. There have also been more than 9,600 arrests of alleged criminals.

However, several of the state charges against those apprehended have been dropped due to persecutor errors, Texas Tribune reported. The mission has also prompted the American Civil Liberties Union, the Texas Civil Rights Project and other groups to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice urging a formal investigation of the program.