by Iri Maus
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has made his deployment of state police and National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border a centerpiece of his re-election campaign. But a growing chorus has begun criticizing it as a politically motivated waste of $2 billion a year that has forced hundreds of part-time troops to deploy to the border with inadequate resources, a fuzzy mission, COVID outbreaks, cramped housing, and delayed paychecks, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
Abbott’s deployment, named Operation Lone Star, has been slammed this month by his likely Democratic gubernatorial opponent Beto O’Rourke but also Allen West, a conservative former Army lieutenant colonel and chairman of the Texas Republican Party who is challenging Abbott in the GOP primary. National Guard troops and veterans are speaking out, too.
Abbott launched Operation Lone Star last March, saying he had to deploy troops to bolster border security amid what he called President Biden’s soft immigration enforcement. His office says that is still true. In September he requested 1,500 National Guard troops to join the 500 already at the border. After Fox News host Tucker Carlson began regularly attacking Abbott for not sending down more troops, Abbott quickly requested another 2,500 troops, the Times reports. By November, his office boasted of 10,000 National Guard members deployed to the border.
“But the Texas Guard could not reach those numbers solely with volunteers,” the Times notes. “So the mission became mandatory,” and “those called up had to report within weeks or, in some cases, a few days.” Maj. Gen. Charles Aris said Guard members can expect to spend 365 days on the border mission, with probably two yearlong “turns.”
“This is just ridiculous, you’re playing with my life and my family’s life,” Hugo Brito, a 20-year Guard veteran who said he decided to retire because of Operation Lone Star, told the Times. An unidentified active Guard member deployed near Brownsville was more blunt. “All we’re doing is standing down here,” he told the Times. “If someone comes up, we ask them to stop and wait, we call Border Patrol. If someone runs, we call Border Patrol. We’re basically mall cops on the border.”
Even as the border mission, dubbed Operation Lone Star, expands, Texas has slashed its tuition assistance budget by more than half — to roughly $1.4 million — to comply with a state-mandated budget reduction.
The benefit cut for soldiers comes after the Texas legislature provided a $300 million funding boost for the Texas Military Department’s border mission amid a record-high year for Border Patrol apprehensions.
O’Rourke and West both pointed to Army Times reports about four suicides among guardsmen tied to the mission. “We rushed into a failure,” West said. “We decided that it was all about a political optic.”
Some critics of the mission have argued that the activations are a political ploy by Gov. Greg Abbott, who faces a primary challenge from former state Republican Party chair Allen West, a hardline conservative rival. West is a former Army officer who was forced to retire after he tortured a detainee while deployed to Iraq as a battalion commander in 2003.