West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) has sent more than 50 members of the West Virginia National Guard to Texas’s southern border to support the state’s inhumane border security program, Operation Lone Star, which is currently under investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for potential constitutional rights violations.
Justice, who is currently campaigning for the U.S. Senate, is one of 14 Republican governors who have mobilized state troops to Texas in response to Abbott’s request for aid at the border. The mission will cost West Virginians $600,000.
“Operation Lone Star has been under investigation by the DOJ for constitutional rights violations, but that didn’t stop Gov. Jim Justice from sending troops to participate in what South Texas organizers call a clear ploy for ‘political points,’” West Virginia Watch reporter Caity Coyne wrote on Twitter.
There have been reports that there isn’t enough work for the West Virginia National Guard volunteers sent to the border, and that many volunteers have been assigned busy work, such as shoveling horse manure and filing paperwork.
“Every single day that more and more people cross that border, more and more potential bad things happen to West Virginia,” Justice said in a press briefing on the mission. He also allegedly told the National Guard volunteers that, “We see countless situations where bad guys and bad girls are coming, bad people that are doing bad stuff, whether that be drugs or trafficking or whatever it may be.”
West Virginia immigrants and civil rights advocates have condemned Justice’s rhetoric, saying that it perpetuates racist and inaccurate stereotypes that further endanger refugees and immigrants in the U.S., who are frequently subject to human rights abuses.
“I work with immigrants every day, including those who are undocumented like myself,” Jackie Lozano, the immigrants’ rights campaign coordinator at American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) West Virginia, told West Virginia Watch. “Hearing this kind of rhetoric from [Justice] it obviously makes us feel unseen and unheard. It’s an attack on people like us and it makes us feel like we’re being used. It makes us feel unwelcome here.”
Humanitarian groups demanded that the Biden Administration intervene in the program after it was reported that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered Texas troopers to push children back into the Rio Grande and not give water to asylum seekers in record-breaking heat.
“It’s almost too much to comprehend. Unfortunately, as horrific as this is, it’s not all that unpredictable given the escalation in dehumanization of migrants,” Mario Carrillo, a Texas-based campaigns manager for America’s Voice, said in a statement. “Abbott, among many other Republicans, has placed political fear-mongering above all, including basic decency, human rights, and how we treat even the most vulnerable in need.”
As part of Operation Lone Star, Texas officials placed barbed wire buoy barriers in the Rio Grande; two dead bodies have been found attached to these buoys in the past few weeks. Last month, the DOJ ordered Texas officials to remove the buoys, saying in a letter to Abbot that the state’s actions “violate federal law, raise humanitarian concerns, present serious risks to public safety and the environment, and may interfere with the federal government’s ability to carry out its official duties.” Abbott rebuffed the order and has refused to take the buoy barrier down.
“Operation Lone Star is not only exacerbating the harms of the U.S. deportation machine, but also criminalizing and exploiting migrant lives in the process,” Silky Shah, executive director of Detention Watch Network, a national coalition building power to abolish immigration detention in the U.S., wrote in a Truthout op-ed. “The program sets a dangerous precedent for how authoritarian leaders can co-opt, expand and unleash existing criminal legal infrastructure onto political targets, which — if it isn’t stopped — could be replicated in other states.”
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