DEL RIO, Texas — Governor Greg Abbott launched Operation Lone Star earlier this year as a way to dodge federal immigration laws and enforce his own border security using state resources.
As part of that plan, Gov. Abbott authorized Department of Public Safety Troopers to arrest migrants on state criminal trespass charges.
To alleviate overcrowded jails in Kinney and Val Verde Counties and overwhelmed local authorities, Gov. Abbott used state funds to put up a temporary processing facility in Del Rio near the Val Verde County Jail to house the migrants arrested.
Since the Governor launched Operation Lone Star in July, thousands of migrants have been arrested, and at least 1,700 have been temporarily housed in the Val Verde facility.
The Texas Department of Emergency Management has overseen operations of the facility since its inception.
Recana, a private contractor, will start overseeing the facility in the coming weeks. And said they will be supervised by state officials.
Officials said the facility can house up to 100 male inmates, arrested for criminal trespassing or human smuggling, while they wait for a virtual hearing with a magistrate judge and transport to the Briscoe Unit in Dilley.
DPS spokesman, Lt. Chris Olivares said female migrants are turned over to Border Patrol.
“When they're here, they get processed. They go through the whole the full medical screening, COVID testing, criminal history screening,” said Olivares.
TDEM officials said inmates are housed in the facility no more than 48 hours before they are transferred to the Briscoe Unit where many migrants will serve out 15 day sentences before being returned to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and most likely be deported.
“It's going to be up to the court process to see how fast they can move to get through that case, whether it's time served, whether the case is dismissed,” said Olivares. “From there, they are transported back to the Val Verde processing center where they are released to ICE.”
Olivares said one of the focuses of Operation Lone Star is to support landowners along the Texas border, especially in Kinney and Val Verde counties, who felt the federal government wasn’t doing anything to enforce border security.
“The landowners there were getting frustrated. They had these illegal immigrants that were coming across in their property, destroying their properties. They didn't feel safe at their homes,” said Olivares. “So, Texas had to step in, and that’s why we deployed DPS. We were able to get consent to be on those properties to make arrests for criminal trespass, as well as the rail yards.”
Olivares said the majority of the migrants who have moved through the Val Verde County processing facility were arrested for trespassing on private ranchlands and on the trains.
“These are individuals who are avoiding detection, avoiding law enforcement,” said Olivares. “These are the single adults that are trying to get across and move further inland.”
Jonathan, a migrant in the facility who did not share his last name with us, did share his story.
He said the journey to the U.S. from his home in Honduras took him three months, a risk worth taking to escape a country riddled with violence and poverty.
The 31-year-old father of two children said he just wanted to provide a better life for his family.
And even though many migrants are still taking the risky, dangerous journey to the U.S., Olivares said Operation Lone Star is working.
“We're seeing is it is a deterrent. A lot of these individuals -- they're under the impression that when they get caught by DPS, we're going to turn them over to U.S. Border Patrol. That's not the case,” said Olivares.
Jonathan said that message has traveled back to his country where many are now afraid to make the journey.
“The message is going to get across that if you do come to Texas and you violate state law, that you will be arrested,” said Olivares.
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