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Texas Constructing Massive Anti-Migrant Military Base

Forward Operating Base Part of Multibillion-Dollar “Operation Lone Star”

National Guard soldier stands guard on the banks of the Rio Grande river at Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, Texas on January 12, 2024. © 2024 Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The Texas Military Department is constructing a massive new “Forward Operating Base” outside of the border community of Eagle Pass to house up to 1,800 national guard members. The base is part of the state’s multibillion-dollar anti-migrant program, Operation Lone Star.

Satellite imagery from February 25 to April 3, 2024, shows the clearing of land and stabilization of soil on the site in Eagle Pass, Texas. Image  © 2024 Planet Labs PBC

Satellite imagery of the site examined by Human Rights Watch shows the massive clearing of land. A video I shot earlier this month shows numerous construction vehicles at the site.

The base could cost Texas taxpayers up to $400 million by September 2026, according to the Austin American-Statesman, and will include an armory and capacity that can be “surged” to accommodate 2,300 troop members.

It is the latest component of the dragnet of laws and initiatives under Operation Lone Star, a ballooning program that Texas Governor Greg Abbott touts as an effort to curtail cartel activities and to reduce unauthorized migration and drug smuggling at the Texas-Mexico border.

While there is no evidence Operation Lone Star has slowed migration, the program has led to injuries and deaths, including in high-speed vehicle chases that Human Rights Watch has investigated. Operation Lone Star has consistently led to violations of the rights of migrants and US citizens, including attacks on freedoms of association and expression of groups providing support to migrants in Texas.

Eagle Pass residents have increasingly grown weary of the program.

In January, three migrants, two of them children, drowned in the Rio Grande near Shelby Park in Eagle Pass. Days earlier, Texas officials had seized the park, against the city’s wishes, and prohibited federal agents from accessing the park. This impeded rescue operations. The drownings and park seizure followed a statement by Texas Governor Greg Abbott during a radio interview where he said the “only thing we're not doing is shooting people” because “the Biden Administration would charge us with murder.”

Amerika Garcia Grewal, a leader of the Eagle Pass Border Coalition, a community organization working for a positive vision of the border, told Human Rights Watch that the construction of the military base didn’t account for the needs of local community members. “It’s disheartening to see this significant sum of Texas tax dollars funneled into the construction of a military base when it could be invested in the future of our children and the health of our community,” Garcia Grewal said.

Instead of wasting hundreds of millions more on border militarization, Texas should work to create a humane system that respects and welcomes migrants and builds strong, resilient border communities.

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