Texas AG slams media for suggesting operation arresting illegal aliens is unconstitutional

Texas state and local law enforcement have been arresting illegal immigrants violating state laws as part of Operation Lone Star.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

Multiple news reports suggesting that a Travis County judge ruled that Texas’ Operation Lone Star is unconstitutional is “fake news,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Office says.

To suggest the state’s border security measures are unconstitutional “is absolutely ludicrous and wrong,” Paxton told The Center Square.

The constitutionality of the program has been questioned by some human rights organizations, the ACLU of Texas, and some Democratic lawmakers who’ve asked the Department of Justice to investigate it, arguing it sets up an alternate immigration system. Media reports have also advanced a narrative that a Texas judge ruled Operation Lone Star was unconstitutional.

“On Jan. 13, a Travis County judge ruled that Gov. [Greg] Abbott’s state-run border enforcement operation violates the U.S. Constitution,” Texas Public Radio stated, citing an Austin American Statesman article. ABC News, MSNBC and others ran similar headlines and stories.

But Texas Deputy Attorney General Aaron Reiz said at a recent Texas Public Policy Foundation event: “This is fake news. Fake news. It’s not what the judge ruled. Operation Lone Star is 100% constitutional. Attorney General Paxton will defend its constitutionality in court.”

The case in question relates to an Ecuadoran national who entered the U.S. illegally. Jesús Alberto Guzmán Curipoma was arrested in September on a criminal trespass charge in Kinney County.

His attorneys, Angelica Cogliano and Addy Miró, argue that Operation Lone Star violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and state laws can’t interfere with federal immigration policy.

But Guzmán Curipoma wasn’t arrested for entering the U.S. illegally, that’s the job of Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Texas officials argue. He was arrested for allegedly violating a state law – trespassing – passed by the state legislature and signed by Abbott.

The legislature recently passed several laws to create enhanced penalties for those committing criminal trespass, human smuggling and fentanyl manufacturing and distribution in the state of Texas. All state laws apply to citizens and non-citizens. Those who commit murder, DWI or sex offenses, for example, all violate state laws and can be arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned regardless of their citizenship status. Texas DPS and local law enforcement officers have been arresting illegal immigrants violating state laws as part of Operation Lone Star, an initiative created by Abbott last March to thwart criminal activity at the southern border.

But Cogliano argues, "Operation Lone Star is a policy whereby they pretextually arrest people that they suspect of being here illegally, which is a fancy legal way of saying people that are brown on the border because there's no other way for anybody to try and determine if somebody looks like they could be illegal. That's not a thing you look like.

"It's authorizing people to use that as a reason to arrest those people for certain offenses and detain them far longer than any U.S. citizen would be detained for that offense in Texas," she told ABC News.

In Guzmán Curipoma’s case, Travis County District Attorney José Garza argued, “After careful consideration, the Travis County District Attorney's Office agreed that Mr. Guzmán Curipoma's prosecution for criminal trespass as part of Operation Lone Star violates the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution and represents an impermissible attempt to intrude on federal immigration policy. In addition, the DA's office concluded that based on the evidence, there were multiple ways in which the OLS program has failed to satisfy basic, fundamental, and procedural state and federal constitutional safeguards."

Travis County Judge Jan Soifer made no such statement and didn't mention Operation Lone Star in her three-sentence ruling granting Guzmán Curipoma’s request for habeus corpus relief. The ruling concludes, “the misdemeanor trespassing case pending against Applicant … be dismissed without delay.”

Still, the Texas Tribune stated, “Gov. Greg Abbott's border initiative is meant to subvert the federal government’s job of enforcing immigration laws. A court fight is brewing over its constitutionality.”

When asked about the constitutionality of Operation Lone Star, Paxton told The Center Square that Texas “has a right to protect our citizens. When the federal government stares us in the face and invites people to cross the border, when people have cartel members walking across their property, threatening their lives, exposing them to COVID, running drugs, running human trafficking rings, and we’re told it’s unconstitutional for the governor to put together a program with our great law enforcement officials to protect our citizens, is absolutely ludicrous and wrong.”

Paxton has sued the Biden administration 10 times over border and immigration issues, arguing its policies are not only unconstitutional but also violate federal immigration law established by Congress.

University of Texas School of Law clinical professor Kathryn Dyer told ABC News, "These very serious constitutional issues have finally been heard and there's a judge that thinks that there were constitutional violations such that the case needed to be dismissed."

But Reitz told a packed audience in Austin, “All that happened is you have a Democrat judge with a Democrat DA who together invited a bunch of Democrat press into the courtroom and then the Democrat press just regurgitated all of the talking points from the DA. They made the argument that Operation Lone Star is unconstitutional, but just because the local [George] Soros-funded DA made the argument that Operation Lone Star is unconstitutional doesn’t mean that it is. It’s airtight. And AG Paxton is proud to defend it.”

Paxton also tweeted of Soifer’s ruling, "Lib Austin judge lets a Soros Travis County DA represent State of TX, then declares Op Lone Star unconstitutional. Ridiculous. Biden has FAILED to secure the border. Texas stepped in. We have the right to defend our border if the feds refuse. I'll fight this nonsense on appeal."

Abbott’s office also released a statement saying he expected the ruling to be overturned.

Since Operation Lone Star was launched, state troopers have made over 10,000 arrests of illegal immigrants, including smugglers and drug traffickers, Texas DPS Director Steve McCraw said. They’ve also seized over five tons of methamphetamine, over $17 million in cash, and enough fentanyl to kill over 200 million people last year alone.

Texas DPS drug seizures exclude the record amounts seized by Border Patrol agents, local and federal authorities.

In Biden’s first year in office, Border Patrol agents made nearly 2 million enforcement actions against illegal immigrants, the majority of whom were released into the U.S.