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The Texas legislature is considering a series of disproportionately punitive bills to strengthen Governor Greg Abbott’s abusive Operation Lone Star. If passed, the bills will bolster Lone Star’s policies that are already harming Texans and marginalized people.

There are chilling similarities between these legislative proposals and the U.S. drug war, with both using heavy-handed policing and enforcement of minor criminal charges to detain, prosecute and incarcerate. Under existing Lone Star policies, among those targeted most fiercely are migrants charged with enhanced trespassing. The policies rely on profiling and surveillance of entire communities. Many U.S. citizens have also been caught up in the program.

President Richard Nixon demonstrated the power of this disastrous formula when he weaponized the drug war against communities for his own political ends. In a now infamous interview, Nixon’s former domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman, said the administration worked to convince Americans that the Black community and “hippies” were deeply involved with drugs so they could use policing and mass incarceration to “disrupt those communities…and vilify them night after night on the evening news.”

As staff members of the Drug Policy Alliance and Human Rights Watch, we have worked for decades to reveal and challenge abusive policies and discriminatory policing stemming from the U.S. drug war.

The U.S. has spent an estimated $1 trillion on the war on drugs since 1971. In 2020 alone there were 1,155,610 arrests for drug law violations in the U.S. and, on any given day, nearly 400,000 people are in prison for drug crimes.

An estimated 80 percent of them are Black or Latinx.

Abbott has spent more than $4 billion on Lone Star since March 2021. The Texas House has passed a budget that contains an additional $4.6 billion for Operation Lone Star over the next two years.

Under Lone Star, up to 10,000 Texas National Guard members and law enforcement officers have been sent to towns and cities in the state’s border regions. As of January 2023, at least 8,000 people had been prosecuted, according to defense attorneys. With more police on patrol, Texans of all walks of life have been swept up in traffic stops and citations, which have increased significantly, as have vehicle chasesThirty people have died in high-speed police chases under Lone Star. Racism is so evident in the program that the U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation into possible civil rights violations.

It is no surprise that the “War on Drugs” has failed abysmally to curb drug use or stop the criminal organizations that feed on the drug trade.

Abbott’s policy similarly has achieved no measurable impact on the power of transnational criminal organizations. According to U.S. government data, the number of migrants arriving at the Texas U.S. border has not decreased. Instead of repairing roads, building schools or fixing the electrical grid, Texas has squandered billions of tax dollars building an enormous militarized system – and has only harm to show for it. 

Texans need to look behind Abbott’s fear-based rhetoric and stop this abusive program before it destroys more lives.

Abbott and some lawmakers are trying to make Texans believe they are under threat, and in the process play to their base and destabilize communities that may oppose them politically.

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