The Justice Center recently hosted a panel discussion on Governor Gregg Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star.” Launched by Governor Abbott in 2021, the program directs the Texas Department of Public Safety to “use available resources to enforce all applicable federal and state laws to prevent the criminal activity along the border, including criminal trespassing, smuggling, and human trafficking, and to assist Texas counties in their efforts to address those criminal activities.” To date, the program has resulted in the arrest and detention of hundreds of individuals, most of whom arrived in the US seeking internationally recognized asylum.
Panelists included Katy Dyer, co-director of Texas Law’s Criminal Defense Clinic; Kristin Etter of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid; Claudia Muñoz of Grassroots Leadership; and Maria Renteria ’21 of RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services). Elissa Steglich, co-director of Texas Law’s Immigration Clinic, moderated the discussion.
As a group, the panelists described the program’s reach and impact, including lengthy detentions for individuals arrested under the program and negative consequences for their immigration cases, as well as ongoing legal challenges to the program based on state and federal constitutional law. Each panelist brought a unique perspective. Etter is a public defender who represents detained individuals in their criminal trespass cases and in constitutional challenges to the program; Renteria has counseled detained individuals on their immigration cases; and Muñoz works to challenge the program as a community organizer.
“It was important to highlight ‘Operation Lone Star’ for the Texas Law community,” said Helen Gaebler, senior research attorney with the Justice Center who helped organize the event. “We also hope that law students learned about ways that community activists and lawyers with different areas of expertise can come together to address injustice.”