88th LegislatureImmigration & BorderIssuesDays Before Texas Legislature Convenes, Abbott Reports 340,000 Illegal Aliens Arrested via Operation Lone Star

Since the last time Texas lawmakers met, federal officials have reported a record-setting fiscal year of encounters with illegal aliens.
January 9, 2023
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As Texas lawmakers prepare to convene in Austin for their 88th regular session, Gov. Greg Abbott’s office reported that 340,000 illegal immigrants, including 23,000 accused criminals, have been arrested by state police and National Guardsmen via Operation Lone Star.

In a news release on Friday, the governor’s office also stated that more than 16,000 noncitizens have been transported to cities across the country, including Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Abbott launched Operation Lone Star in March 2021.

While securing the border is primarily a federal duty, Abbott and the State of Texas have acted to deter illegal immigration and provide supplemental law enforcement amid the border crisis.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 1.5 million encounters with illegal immigrants in border patrol sectors anchored in Texas during Fiscal Year (FY) 2022, which saw an all-time record for enforcement encounters. Of course, enforcement actions do not include those who evaded arrest by border agents and those who avoided detection altogether.

There were 2.4 million encounters along the southern U.S. border overall, including 2.2 million arrests between ports of entry.

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Before lawmakers meet at the Capitol on Tuesday, Rep. David Spiller (R-Jacksboro) and Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) filed billsHouse Bill (HB) 82 and Senate Bill (SB) 237 — to enable Abbott to enter into border security compacts with other states with approval from the U.S. Congress. In fact, Hall’s bill would require the governor to do so.

Last year, Abbott entered into border security agreements with the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas after placing pressure on them by slowing down commerce, requiring enhanced security checks by the Department of Public Safety of vehicles entering Texas.

Spiller also filed a bill to increase the criminal penalties for certain crimes committed while entering the country illegally. In a similar vein, Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Royce City) filed a bill to create a special criminal statute for criminal trespassing by an illegal alien.

Slaton also filed a bill to set up a “border security enhancement fund,” part of which would be used to complete the Texas border wall and name it after former President Trump, who is running for the White House again in 2024. HB 209 would allow the use of eminent domain for the law and require the governor to seek reimbursement from the federal government.

The last time the Legislature met in session was October 2021, for the purpose of redrawing the maps for legislative districts after the delayed publishing of the results of the 2020 U.S. Census. That was at the very beginning of the federal FY 2022 — each fiscal year begins on October 1  — during which CBP reported the record-setting number of enforcement encounters with illegal immigrants.

The 87th Texas Legislature appropriated approximately $4 billion for Operation Lone Star, according to Abbott’s office. The task for the 88th will be to decide how much taxpayer funding should be allotted for Abbott’s signature border security effort. Democrats and other critics have pointed to the cost of the operation compared to its limited results.

Despite Abbott’s efforts, there was a substantial increase in enforcement actions in Texas border patrol sectors from FY 2021, which saw 1.1 million encounters.

The Legislature will also have the opportunity to provide more funding for the state’s border wall project, which received bipartisan support during the second special session in September 2021. Led by House Appropriations Chairman Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), the Texas Legislature passed an additional $1.2 billion in border security funding.

Last week, Comptroller Glenn Hegar updated his estimate of the budget surplus for the 2024-2025 biennium, which he projected in July 2021 would be $27 billion. It is conceivable that Republicans may want to spend a portion of that sum on border security. They will undoubtedly face opposition from some Democrats, who contend that characterizing the southern border as a disaster zone is hyperbolic or even racially charged.

The GOP controls both houses of the Legislature, and the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) has made securing the border a high-priority item on its agenda.

At their biennial convention in June, delegates to the RPT convention adopted a platform that urged federal and state lawmakers to “effectively secure the border through whatever means necessary.” They included border security on the party’s list of priorities for the 88th Legislature.

The item on the legislative priorities list states, “Texas shall immediately deny all taxpayer funded services and subsidies to illegal aliens. We call upon the Governor to assert his duty under Article 1, Section 10, Clause 3 of the US Constitution to declare an invasion on our Texas border and do everything in his power to protect Texans from this invasion. The legislature shall direct the Governor to enter into an Interstate Compact with one or more states for Border Security.”

The RPT included Spiller’s and Halls’ border security compact proposals on its list of approved bills for the legislative priorities, as well as Slaton’s border wall bill.

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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."