Misuse of Texas Troopers Has Broader Implications for the US

While the pro-Palestinian student protests and accounts of police crackdowns at universities across the United States in April have fallen out of the newscycle, students at the University of Texas at Austin continue to face criminal charges and other punishment after Texas Governor Greg Abbott deployed the same police used to harm migrants at the US-Mexico border. The misuse of police against student and faculty protesters in Texas was perhaps the most egregious example from across the nation.

It is also a reminder that unchecked abuses carried out at the border often foreshadow abuses of people living in the US interior. And like the students, migrants also continue to pay a high price for exercising their rights in Texas.

The Columbia University encampment of solidarity with the Palestinian people sparked a wave of student solidarity encampments across the nation, including at UT Austin. Student leaders said they objected to the “Israel-led, US-backed genocide in Gaza” and called for an immediate ceasefire as “Israel continues to bomb hospitals, schools, homes, and refugee camps while cutting off food and water to more than 2 million Palestinians in Gaza.” The protesters demanded UT Austin divest from Israeli companies they say are complicit in killing Palestinians.

While university administrators in some states called local police to break up protest encampments, on April 24, Abbott also deployed the Texas Department of Public Safety – the same heavily militarized state troopers used against asylum seekers and border residents under Operation Lone Star.

Abbott’s multibillion-dollar Operation Lone Star has violated the rights of migrants and Texans alike and is enforced primarily by troopers, who have been involved in injuries and deaths under the program, including at least 74 deaths from high-speed vehicle chases. Operation Lone Star has also included attacks on freedom of association and expression of groups providing support to migrants in Texas.

On June 15, Abbott renewed the “disaster proclamation concerning border security,” first issued in 2021 and triggering the deployment of thousands of state troopers to the Texas-Mexico border to arrest migrants on state charges, including criminal trespass. Abbott’s perpetuation of the invasion and disaster narratives are false and risk fueling white nationalist violence.

The deployment of state troopers to disperse the peaceful protest and arrest students and faculty is just one manifestation of the growing misuse of police in Texas, demonstrating mission creep of the troubled Operation Lone Star. Under the program, the Department of Public Safety  regularly carries out air and digital surveillance, racial profiling, unlawful arrests, and deadly high-speed chasesdeaths and injurieshave also resulted from its use of razor wire and buoys with saw blades.

On June 13, Human Rights Watch filed a complaint with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division calling for a swift investigation into allegations of abuse under Operation Lone Star, including asylum pushbacks and the beating of one migrant man to death.

At both the border and at UT Austin, Abbott’s use of state troopers represents a worrying expansion of state control of public spaces at the expense of rights and democracy.

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Ari Sawyer, Abbey Koenning-Rutherford