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Lawsuits & Litigation

Immigrant Advocates Sue South Texas Sheriffs, Wardens for Civil Rights Abuses

— August 24, 2023

The lawsuit alleges that Texas sheriffs and wardens kept migrants behind bars for weeks longer than legally permissible.

Immigrant rights advocates have filed a lawsuit against South Texas sheriffs and state prison wardens, claiming that they kept four migrants behind bars for as long as six weeks after their sentences had been served or charges had been dropping.

According to The Texas Tribune, the lawsuit was filed earlier this week in the Western District of Texas by the Americana Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the Texas Fair Defense Project, and a Washington, D.C.-based law firm, Covington & Burlington.

“Texas’ cruel border politics and policies are wasteful, inflammatory, and riddled with human and civil rights abuses,” said David Donatti, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “Our clients were locked up for days and weeks after state law commanded they should be released.”

“Hundreds or thousands of others have been subjected to the same or similar disregard of their rights. Gov. Abbott has manipulated unchecked executive power and Texas’ criminal laws to leverage control over border communities and endanger migrants,” he said. “In the United States, and in Texas, the government cannot impose criminal penalties without due process of law.”

While the complaint was filed on behalf of four migrants, attorneys say that Texas law enforcement officials have abused Operation Lone Star to keep thousands of other migrants behind bars, often unnecessarily and in violation of their legal rights.

Operation Lone Star is a controversial border enforcement program championed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and others in his administration.

Pictured: A U.S. Border Patrol vehicle along the the US-Mexico border. Image via Pixnio/Public Domain.

Under Operation Lone Star, Texas has invested millions of dollars into “securing” its borders, including through the installation of a controversial, barbed wire-covered buoy system in the Rio Grande.

The lawsuit names the following parties as defendants:

  • The Kinney County Sheriff;
  • The Val Verde County Sheriff;
  • The warden of the Dolph Briscoe Unit prisons; and
  • The warden of the Segovia Unit prison.

Attorneys note that Operation Lone Star-related arrests are typically conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety and each Texas county’s individual sheriff’s office.

“In its design and execution, ‘catch and jail’ metes out incarceration; due process is at most an afterthought,” the lawsuit alleges. “Foreseeably, if not intentionally, the scheme has violated the human and civil rights of hundreds, if not thousands, of people.”

Camilla Hsu, managing attorney for litigation at the Texas Fair Defense Project, said that the government cannot simply conduct arrests without proper cause.

“The government cannot just grab whoever they want off the street and lock them in cages as long as they feel like it,” Hsu said.


Four Migrants Seeking Asylum File Lawsuit for Civil Rights Abuses under Operation Lone Star

Migrants held even after their Texas border charges were resolved, lawsuit claims

Texas imprisoned migrants after they should have been released, lawsuit claims

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