Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Thursday addressed the ongoing migrant crisis on the Texas-Mexico border saying that because the federal government is failing to respond Texas will be stepping up to once again fill the gaps in border coverage through Operation Lone Star, the state's effort to crack down on human trafficking and smuggling.
"The Biden administration's open-border policies have created an open season for human traffickers, for drug smugglers, for cartels and gangs. These criminals are preying upon women and children, exposing them to abuse and to terror," Abbott said. "Because the federal government is failing to act, to respond to these dangers, Texas is stepping up to secure the border and keep our communities safe.
Abbott said in response to the threat along the border he launched Operation Lone Star about a month ago to fill the gaps created when the U.S. Border Patrol officers are forced to deal with detentions of migrants instead of stopping smugglers. The gaps, Abbott said, have left wide swaths of the Texas-Mexico border open for smugglers to move people, drugs and contraband across the border.
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The governor said in the 28 days since Operation Lone Star began, the Texas Department of Public Safety has made 598 criminal arrests and more than 16,000 referrals of illegal crossings to the Border Patrol.
Of the criminal arrests, Abbott said one involved a stash house in the Rio Grande Valley where DPS State Troopers and special agents discovered four people who crossed the border illegally and a gang member wanted for the rape of a child under 13. On March 8, Abbott said DPS troopers made a traffic stop that resulted in the arrest of a man who was wanted for continuous sexual assault of a child.
Abbott said on March 14 a State Trooper attempted to make a traffic stop that escalated into a pursuit. When the chase ended, troopers learned the driver was smuggling immigrants including a 14-year-old child that had been sexually assaulted and the driver had child pornography on his phone.
The governor's final account of the state's action on the border included the story of the DPS assisting the Border Patrol in apprehending waves of immigrants being smuggled across the border on rafts. Abbott said 217 people were taken into custody including 152 children. One of the children, a 6-month-old girl, was thrown into the river by smugglers, Abbott said, so that law enforcement would have to divert their attention to save the child. The child, Abbott said, was pulled from the river and saved by a Texas State Trooper who also was credited with rescuing a woman whose legs had been stomped on and broken by smugglers.
In the last 28 days, Abbott said state police have also seized 14 pounds of cocaine, 23 firearms, seized $1 million in currency and arrested nine others who were identified as members of gangs.
Abbott said what state officials have seen along the border during the last month is just the beginning of what will be an onslaught.
"The bottom line is this, Operation Lone Star is doing everything they can to keep our community safe. But this problem is not going to be fixed until the Biden Administration does its job to secure our border and to get this crisis under control," Abbott said.
Abbott's remarks follow a letter to Vice President Kamala Harris this week that pressed for answers on the Biden administration's response to the surge of migrant families and unaccompanied minors crossing the border.
"The thought of any child suffering at the hands of human traffickers is unacceptable," Abbott's letter read. "Given your new role as the administration's Border Czar, I urge you to visit the border to see the crisis for yourself, and I implore the Biden administration to take swift action to secure the border, crack down on human trafficking, and prevent more children from being trafficked and abused."
"To be clear, this is the federal government's responsibility. However, in the absence of federal action, the State of Texas launched Operation Lone Star to secure the border and combat the smuggling of people and drugs into Texas," the letter said, adding that the state has deployed 1,000 State Troopers and agents, as well as Texas Rangers, to support operations on the border.
Harris’ team has clarified that the vice president does not own all of immigration policy. She will be focused on the diplomatic side, working with Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to try to stop the flow of migrants from those countries, and not on the difficult task of deciding who is let into the U.S., where they are housed and what to do with the children who arrive without their parents.
An uptick in the number of people crossing the border, especially children traveling alone and families, has filled up federal holding facilities. The U.S. has been releasing families with children 6 and under and expelling families with older children under pandemic-related powers that deny an opportunity to seek asylum.