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Will Biden Stop Texas from Separating Asylum-Seeking Families at Border Under Operation Lone Star?

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We get an update from the Texas border, where human rights advocates are condemning Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star” for its human rights abuses. Texas troopers have reportedly separated over two dozen migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border in a major change of policy. This comes amid a deadly heat wave and after the first deaths linked to floating barrels wrapped in razor wire that Abbott put in the Rio Grande to block asylum seekers from crossing. “We’re calling for an end to the use of all of these detractions that are getting in the way of people being able to seek protection,” says Marisa Limón Garza, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, which is based in El Paso, Texas.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We turn now to Texas, where the Republican Governor Greg Abbott is escalating his crackdown on asylum seekers at the southern border. The Houston Chronicle reports Texas troopers recently changed their policy and are now separating migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border under Abbott’s Operation Lone Star. At least two dozen families have been separated.

The policy has been widely condemned by immigrant rights advocates for its abuses. Attorneys with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid say most of the separated families, separating the mother and children from the fathers, are from Venezuela and planned to turn themselves in to U.S. border officials to request asylum. Instead, state troopers with the Texas Department of Public Safety arrest the fathers on trespassing charges. Other family members, including their young children, were separately detained by Border Patrol. The practice violates the Abbott administration’s own border enforcement guidelines.

Advocates are calling on the Biden administration to intervene and immediately reunite the families. The campaign #WelcomeWithDignity said in a statement, quote, “the world can now see that Governor Abbott’s cruelty knows no bounds,” unquote.

Just last month, Biden’s Justice Department sued Governor Abbott after Texas installed barrels wrapped in razor wire in the Rio Grande to block asylum seekers from crossing the river. Dozens of migrants, including children, have suffered severe injuries and lacerations after being cut by razor wire. Last week, the body of two asylum seekers were found in the Rio Grande, one of them trapped in the razor wire barrier. The first reported deaths linked to the buoys include a victim identified as a 20-year-old from Honduras.

Meanwhile, the blistering heat wave in Texas has also been deadly for migrants crossing through the region, with a whistleblower recently revealing Texas border officials were ordered to deny migrants drinking water even in the brutal heat.

For more, we go to El Paso, Texas, where we’re joined by Marisa Limón Garza, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us, though not under these circumstances, Marisa. Can you describe what you understand is happening at the border? People might say they thought, under Trump, they understood the separation policy, still dealing with perhaps a thousand families that have never been reunited. But it’s continuing to happen?

MARISA LIMÓN GARZA: Indeed, it does seem like it’s continuing to happen here at our southern border. We believe in the safety and well-being of all people, and that’s an understanding that is shared by many Americans. And we know — we all know, including Governor Abbott — the incredible harms and lifelong damage that is caused by this kind of separation. We know what happens to children, the psychological damage to adults, as well. And it’s not surprising, unfortunately, that he has continued to ratchet up the response, in many measures, to gain political points.

And so, we see this separation occurring. We see the harms that it causes. And it’s incredibly difficult to continue to have that happen here at our southern border. When you pair that with the horrors of this buoy system and everything that we’re seeing in Eagle Pass with razor wire and the lacerations on people and the harm that that causes, it just goes back to a tired trope that people continue to try to pursue, which is a deterrence practice through cruelty. And this cruelty continues to be augmented and built upon in horrific ways that we know are just not effective. People are on the move across the globe. This has not deterred migrants from coming. If anything, these practices put people into more harm’s way, when they’re just trying to seek asylum, you know, their legal right.

And so, it’s horrific to see. And we call on the Biden administration to continue their efforts to make sure that Governor Abbott stops this practice, that Operation Lone Star is ended, and that we can no longer have the separation of families on our watch. It’s unconscionable, and it goes against all of our values.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Marisa, can you explain further? They’re arresting the men on trespassing charges?

MARISA LIMÓN GARZA: Yes, the trespassing charges is the tool that the governor is using, with Operation Lone Star, to be able to put the men — that’s one of the very few access points that they have — as a way of legally operating through the Department of Public Safety. And so, this mechanism results in separation of families. And those families are actually supposed to be all presented together to Border Patrol officials and not have the separation occur. And so, there’s certainly some kind of breakdown between Border Patrol and DPS in what’s actually happening at the southern border.

This has caused the communities in Eagle Pass to respond in different ways. There’s been reporting recently about different people in the community, landowners and others, having real issue with these practices. And the City Council actually had privatized a park — now that’s become public again — because there wasn’t a real understanding of the great lengths that the Abbott government would go to to make sure that there was harm placed on migrants.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to go to this issue of the razor wire. You’re in El Paso. And I want to ask you about the response in the border city of Eagle Pass, Texas, where residents gathered Monday night along the Rio Grande to commemorate asylum seekers who have drowned in the river. This is Jessie Fuentes, who is pursuing a lawsuit against Texas over new river barriers covered in razor wire they installed and their environmental impact. He spoke to The Dallas Morning News.

JESSIE FUENTES: I don’t know what it’s going to take to get our park back, to get our river back, to let our river heal. That is a destroyed island. You don’t make a comeback if we just remove everything that’s there. We’ve got to let the river heal. We’ve got to let our community heal. And we need to remove all these impediments out of the river. That’s a federally protected river. None of that stuff should be there.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is the Mexican president, AMLO, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, speaking last week, condemning Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s immigration policy.

PRESIDENT ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR: [translated] Their nationalities are being investigated, the people found at the Rio Grande river as of yesterday, and action is going to be taken. We already are demanding the removal of these buoys, which violate our sovereignty and our human rights. … He, the Texas governor, Gregory Wayne Abbott, shouldn’t act like that. Texas migrant policy, it’s inhumane. We don’t treat any person like that. No one should be treated like that. That’s not something good people do.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what is happening on this front, Marisa Limón Garza? Is there any move to remove the razor wire? I know the federal government is saying they’re taking action. What exactly are they doing?

MARISA LIMÓN GARZA: The federal government has — through the Department of Justice, is seeking litigation against the Abbott administration to remove these barriers and to make sure that this is not happening here at the southern border. We, here in El Paso, know very well what kind of a scar militarization is on our regions. That extends from San Diego all the way to Brownsville. This is a reality that we face every day when we see concertina wire at our ports of entry. We see border wall construction, steel bollard fencing. We see drones overhead, checkpoints out of the region. And it’s no wonder that Eagle Pass is suffering these grave harms with this horrific new iteration of a way to increase militarization on pieces of land, environment, that have been protected and have been really enjoyed by flora, fauna for millennia.

And so, to see these kinds of atrocities really flies in the face of everything that we believe in and value in. And so it’s time for that federal government to take a more of an active response, continue to push for more action to make sure this practice ends, and so there can be an attempt at healing, both from the environment as well as from communities. I know members of Congress will be visiting the southern border this week. And so we call on them to really take action and to push the administration forward on ending these horrific practices.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, your organization, along with 200 civil, human rights and immigrant rights organizations, have written to the Biden administration, which has been using the decrease in migrant crossings between ports of entry as an example of the asylum policy working. What are you calling for in this letter?

MARISA LIMÓN GARZA: We are calling for an end to these practices. We know that the decrease in numbers is not really an actual representation of what is happening, and it cannot be attributed to this new policy. We know that the policy people take time to see what kind of impact it’s going to have. And the reality is that people are continuing to be on the move. We’re calling for an end of the use of all of these detractions that are getting in the way of people being able to seek protection, and making sure that people have access to territory that they should be able to seek protection with them.

We join many other organizations across the country, in unison, really calling for an end to these practices, especially all of the things that are related to the Circumvention of Lawful Pathways, the policy that the Biden administration has put into place, and really against the use of the credible fear interview and expedited removal that’s caused incredible damage and an erosion of due process for anybody trying to seek protection while in the custody of border officials.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Marisa Limón Garza, the issue of the desperate heat and what migrants face, if not the razor wire, the deadly heat.

MARISA LIMÓN GARZA: The heat is horrific. You know, today — yesterday in El Paso, I believe we reached up to 112 degrees. We’ve had the longest streak of over-100-degree temperatures in our region. And the reality is that migration doesn’t stop. And so, there are limited resources for people. It’s caused grave harm and danger, ultimately resulting in death in many instances. And it’s a reality of migration that shouldn’t be part of what happens. A lot of the deterrence-through-cruelty practices push people to more dangerous and remote parts of our border, and that results in increased loss of life and damage and harm when it comes to heat-related illnesses and other problems. So, it’s another element that’s only ratcheting up the other consequences that we have when it comes to these kinds of practices and these kind of deterrents.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of a border guard not only not providing water, but sometimes taking water that humanitarians leave for people who might be seeking refuge?

MARISA LIMÓN GARZA: Yes, I mean, it’s devastating. There are calls throughout the community for people to be able — just regular folks to be able to have access to water. We have cooling stations in our community intentionally, so that people can cool off. And yet, those kinds of protections don’t extend, it seems, to migrants, which is inhumane and horrific. And so, to hear that families, intentionally, knowingly, are being left without any kind of water, a basic human right, is devastating. And so, that’s something that we’re certainly against, and in favor of a real humanitarian response, which is what the response to migration should be, first and foremost, is recognizing that common humanity and what we all feel as we’re going through this scorching summer as a result of the climate crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: Marisa Limón Garza, we want to thank you so much for being with us, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, speaking to us from El Paso, Texas.

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