August 16, 2023

Congressman Castro and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Members Call on the Biden Administration to Investigate Governor Abbott’s Migrant Family Separation Practices

WASHINGTON – This week, Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) Chair Nanette Barragán, Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (TX-29), Congressman Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (TX-16), and 23 additional CHC members sent a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) demanding a full and transparent investigation into the intentional separation of migrant families at the hands of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). The letter also requested that both agencies take necessary measures to prevent this cruel practice and ensure that families can remain together. This letter comes following multiple reports that DPS is arresting and incarcerating men who arrive in the United States and separating them from their families as part of Operation Lone Star.

"With Operation Lone Star, Governor Greg Abbott is taking our country down a road that is reminiscent of the worst episodes of moral failure in our country's history," said Rep. Joaquin Castro. "The Biden administration must not simply look the other way while children are dying on Operation Lone Star buses and fathers are being ripped from their families and detained for months at a time with no due process. Americans deserve serious conversations about immigration reform, but this brutality has no place in our country. There's a right way to treat people and a wrong way to treat people, and the federal government has a responsibility to step in and protect human rights."

“The reports that children and families at the U.S.-Mexico border are being traumatized through cruel separation tactics ordered by Governor Greg Abbott are disturbing,” said CHC Chair Nanette Barragán. “The Governor continues to escalate his inhumane border policies causing further harm to innocent people. The CHC has learned that fathers are allegedly being incarcerated and then transferred to separate facilities in deplorable conditions with little to no communication given to mothers and children on their whereabouts. Reports also claim that their rights to due process are being violated with threats of waiting months in jail and promises of being reunited with their loved ones immediately if they instead choose to plead guilty. The CHC will not stand for the mistreatment of vulnerable migrant families and asylum seekers. We call on the DOJ and DHS to investigate these allegations and ensure these families are reunited so they can proceed with their immigration cases together.”

“Governor Abbott continues his political stunts in implementing illegal, cruel, and inhumane tactics to unsuccessfully prevent migrant families from seeking a better quality of life,” said CHC Whip Rep. Sylvia Garcia. “It is deeply alarming to hear reports of children being torn apart from their parents. Operation Lone Star interferes with the federal government’s role in enforcing immigration law and frustrates migrants' efforts in using their legal right to ask for asylum. Along with my colleagues, we urge the DOJ and DHS to conduct a thorough investigation into these serious allegations and take proactive measures to ensure the reunification of these families."

“Governor Abbott’s Operation Lone Star blatantly disregards basic human rights and the rule of law,“ said Rep. Tony Cárdenas. “During my visit to the U.S.-Mexico border last week, I witnessed firsthand the cruelty imposed on asylum-seeking migrants and their families. Family separation is inhumane and beneath the values of our country. I join my colleagues in calling on the DOJ and DHS to investigate any unlawful practices and to quickly intervene to protect the rule of law.”

“The tactics we're seeing Greg Abbott employ against migrants in the name of ‘border security’ are just as inhumane and horrendous as they were when the Trump administration used them. Justifying family separation and cruelty as deterrents to legal asylum seeking has no place in immigration policy or this country,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar. “While I remain grateful for the Biden administration’s commitment to finding solutions to the challenges at our borders within the scope of the executive branch, the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security must immediately investigate this needless suffering at our border inflicted by those seeking political wins for their base.”

Last week, Representative Castro led Representatives Garcia and Cárdenas, along with Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) on a Congressional delegation to Eagle Pass, Texas to see the deadly razor wires and buoys that Governor Abbott installed in the Rio Grande as part of Operation Lone Star. The legislators also engaged with local authorities and community members about the impact of Operation Lone Star on asylum-seekers, federal immigration enforcement, and the local community.

In addition to Rep. Castro, Chair Barragán, Rep. Garcia, Rep. Cárdenas, and Rep. Escobar, the letter is signed by Rep. Salud Carbajal (CA-24), Rep. Greg Casar (TX-35), Rep. Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Rep. Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (NM-03), Rep. Jesús G. "Chuy" García (IL-04), Rep. Robert Garcia (CA-42), Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (TX-34), Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-07), Rep. Mike Levin (CA-49), Rep. Robert Menendez (NJ-08), Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (CA-31), Rep. Delia Ramirez (IL-03), Rep. Raul Ruiz (CA-25), Rep. Andrea Salinas (OR-06), Rep. Linda T. Sánchez (CA-38), Rep. Darren Soto (FL-09), Rep. Ritchie Torres (NY-15), Rep. Gabe Vasquez (NM-02) Rep. Juan Vargas (CA-52), and Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07).

The complete letter can be found here, and the text of the letter is below:

Dear Attorney General Garland and Secretary Mayorkas:

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) writes to demand that the Department of Justice (DOJ) immediately launch an investigation and take concerted measures to ensure that officials from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) stop intentionally separating migrant families along the Rio Grande sector of the U.S.-Mexico border. Texas DPS has confirmed that they are separating families by arresting and incarcerating men who arrive with their wives and children as part of Operation Lone Star. This appears to be an attempt by Governor Greg Abbott to reinvent cruel and unpopular policies of the previous Trump Administration and is a blatant contradiction to the Biden Administration’s efforts to keep families together. We urge the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to reunite these families and ensure that the families’ immigration cases proceed together.

Based on news reports and confirmed by CHC members during a recent Congressional Delegation (CODEL) visit to the Rio Grande sector of the U.S.-Mexico border, Texas DPS troopers have broken up at least 26 families by arresting the fathers for criminal trespass and incarcerating them in state prison since July 10. The families reported that DPS said they would be reunited later in immigration custody, but they remain separated. Of particular concern, during their visit, CHC Members were informed by local immigration and civil rights advocates with firsthand knowledge that those who have been incarcerated by DPS are living in horrendous prison conditions and are possibly being informed of their legal options in ways that arguably coerces a specific course of action. For example, CHC members learned, that migrants were being told that they could either wait 6-9 months in jail or, if they want to be reunited with their families, they could plead guilty and get out on bond automatically. Pretrial detention for a class B misdemeanor anywhere else in Texas is 1 to 3 days in jail, yet migrants are being held several months in deplorable conditions. Since most of these individuals have little to no legal support, they do not understand what they are admitting guilt to or how it will affect their immigration status. If true, it is possible their rights to due process are being violated. We ask the DOJ to expedite any ongoing investigation of these allegations and, if due process rights are being violated, that they take immediate action to protect the rights of those in custody and to work with DHS to identify those whose rights were violated and reunite them with their families.

After the fathers are incarcerated in state or local facilities, they are then transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, with no reference to the families they have been separated from and placed in expedited removal. With little to no communication, mothers and children are traumatized and left wondering what happened to their loved ones. We ask that Secretary Mayorkas investigate these reports and ensure that these fathers are not being placed into expedited removal and immediately reunite the fathers with their families. This should be extended broadly so that parents are not separated from their families and placed into expedited removal. Confirming news reports, during our visit, we heard from advocates on the ground who have witnessed the severe physical and mental trauma Operation Lone Star’s tactics inflict on innocent families.

This latest news comes at the heels of Governor Abbott’s other increasingly malicious tactics to harm migrants at the Texas border. Based on news reports and confirmed during our visit, Texas DPS has installed large buoys with nets and razor-sharp defense mechanisms and concertina wire barriers to prevent people from reaching safety through the Rio Grande. Notably, the buoys are positioned in the river to impede migrants’ ability to cross through safe waters, forcing people to cross through deep and dangerous points in the river. In addition to forcing migrants to tread through more dangerous waters, Texas troopers have been ordered to push migrants, including young children, back into the Rio Grande and to deny migrants water in the sweltering heat. Most recently, the bodies of two people were found on or near one of these buoy barriers installed by Texas authorities. Governor Abbott’s escalating political stunts are not only inhumane and unacceptable but also deadly.

Additionally, according to reports, communities in Texas do not want their backyards used to host Governor Abbott’s cruel and deadly political stunts. Earlier this month, Texans in Eagle Pass protested the city’s closure of Shelby Park, a public city park that runs along the Rio Grande, to the public and its use as a base for Operation Lone Star. Since the park’s closure on the Fourth of July, razor wire and large containers have been placed along the riverbank and buoy barriers were later deployed into the river from the park grounds. While the Mayor was responsive to the community and rescinded the affidavit that proclaimed Shelby Park private, the now-public park is still being used by Texas DPS to issue arrests. During their visit, CHC members were able to confirm these reports when they met with community stakeholders who emphasized their opposition to Operation Lone Star and the implementation of barriers in the Rio Grande. They oppose these barriers on humanitarian, environmental, private property, and business obstructions grounds. We echo their concerns and share the detrimental impact Governor Abbot’s orders have had on border communities, particularly Eagle Pass.

We commend the DOJ filing a lawsuit on July 24 against Texas and Governor Abbott for placing these buoys in the Rio Grande. However, we strongly believe more must be done. Governor Abbott has been able to implement Operation Lone Star and act with impunity for more than two years. We urgently call on the Administration to consider what further decisive action they can take to address this alarming situation. We urge DOJ to expedite any ongoing investigation on how federal dollars are being used by the State of Texas in ways that violate civil rights and anti-discrimination laws. We also ask the administration to pursue all avenues, including the courts, to stop Governor Abbott from continuing to implement these policies and prevent any further human rights abuses.

We, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, urgently request your immediate attention to this deeply troubling situation. We request a prompt reply that updates Congress as to how these families are being reunited and what actions the DOJ and DHS are taking to ensure that future family separations are prevented, and due process rights is being protected. Please give this request your full and fair consideration on the merits in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.