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The Continuing War on Immigration: What is Operation Lone Star?

Overview of Operation Lone Star

In March 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott launched “Operation Lone Star.”[1] According to the press release from the Governor’s Office, “[t]he Operation integrates [the Texas Department of Public Safety] with the Texas National Guard and deploys air, ground, marine, and tactical border security assets to high threat areas to deny Mexican Cartels and other smugglers the ability to move drugs and people into Texas.”[2] As a result of this program, thousands of National Guard troops, as well as other state agencies, were deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border to enforce the Governor’s initiative.[3] Specifically, the program gives state law enforcement the ability to arrest and detain individuals that are suspected of trespassing.[4]

Since the implementation of Operation Lone Star, many individuals have been impacted. According to the Office of the Texas Governor, “[s]ince the launch of Operation Lone Star, multi-agency efforts have led to more than 219,300 migrant apprehensions, along with more than 12,700 charges for criminal offenses – including more than 10,200 felony charges.”[5]

Challenges to Operation Lone Star

One of the impacted individuals was an Ecuadorian man named Jesus Alberto Guzman Curipoma.[6] On September 17, 2021, Mr. Curipoma was arrested for criminal trespass, a misdemeanor.[7] Following his arrest, Mr. Curipoma was detained for more than four months.[8] While detained, Mr. Curipoma was not arraigned, nor was he allowed to file an asylum application.[9] Following Mr. Curipoma’s arrest and detainment, his attorneys argued that the Operation Lone Star program violated the United States Constitution’s Supremacy Clause because immigration matters and enforcement are handled by the federal government and federal law enforcement, not by each state.[10] Therefore, Mr. Curipoma argued that the program was unconstitutional  because the Texas governor did not have the authority to put immigration matters into the hands of state law enforcement.[11] Travis County Judge Jan Soifer held that the arrest of Mr. Curipoma was unconstitutional and dismissed the case.[12]

Shortly before the ruling, the Travis County District Attorney, the office prosecuting Mr. Curipoma’s case, agreed that Operation Lone Star violated the United States Constitution.[13] However, the Travis County decision did not end the litigation surrounding this case. Mr. Curipoma’s arrest took place in Kinney County, not Travis County.[14] Although the Travis County District Attorney agreed that Operation Lone Star was unconstitutional and were in agreement with Mr. Curipoma’s case, the prosecutors in Kinney County disagreed.[15] The Kinney County District Attorney appealed Judge Soifer’s ruling with the Third District Court of Appeals of Texas in Austin.[16] Ultimately, the Third District dismissed the case, citing the fact that the District Attorney in Kinney County did not have the authority to bring the appeal because they were not party to the initial case in front of Judge Soifer.[17] Since the Third District’s decision, hundreds arrests have been challenged in Kinney County,[18] opening the door for more litigation.

Constitutionality of Operation Lone Star

Under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, law made under the Constitution is the “supreme law of the land.”[19] The Supreme Court addressed the issue of states, instead of the federal government, implementing immigration laws in the 2012 ruling in Arizona v. United States. There, the Arizona state legislature passed a law that sought to “discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens and economic activity by persons unlawfully present in the United States.”[20] The question presented to the Supreme Court was whether four provisions of the Arizona law were invalidated by federal law.[21] The Court ultimately held that three out of the four provisions were preempted.[22] The Court cited an abundance of established case law that states, “[t]he federal power to determine immigration policy is well settled.”[23] Furthermore, the Court cited case law that firmly establishes that when the federal government completely “fills” an area or if the federal government has a prevailing interest in the area, then state law “supplementing” the federal law will be preempted.[24] Therefore, after analyzing the case law that would pertain to the implementation of Operation Lone Star, it is probable that the Judge Soifer’s ruling was correct in that the program is unconstitutional.

The Future of Operation Lone Star

Since Operation Lone Star has been implemented, a group of organizations have asked the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to investigate Operation Lone Star.[25] The ACLU of Texas submitted a Title VI Complaint to the United States Attorney General and the United States Department of Justice requesting an investigation into Operation Lone Star.[26] Specifically, the ACLU claims the following: that there is discrimination based on the intent of officials to punish immigrants for coming to the United States,[27] there are unlawful arrests of immigrants under the Operation Lone Star protocols,[28] and racial discrimination of the individuals arrested.[29] The ACLU is also alleging civil rights violations that happen in connection with Operation Lone Star.[30] Two months after the Texas ACLU filed its initial complaint, it filed a supplemental complaint urging the Department of Justice to investigate Operation Lone Star and to publicly speak on the issue.[31]

In all, it is unclear what the future of Operation Lone Star will entail. It is likely that litigation will continue, as there is clearly disagreement as to whether the program is constitutional. It is also likely that organizations will continue to call for the program to be discontinued as it is controversial. Due to the disagreement and publicity surrounding Operation Lone Star, it is quite possible that the executive branch will take a stance on this issue. However, there is a possibility that this issue does not make it to the Supreme Court because, as stated above, they have already ruled on this issue. As long as Operation Lone Star remains in use, individuals will continue to be arrested and detained by Texas law enforcement, and it could be years before there is a final determination as to the constitutionality of Operation Lone Star.

[1] Governor Abbott, DPS Launch “Operation Lone Star” To Address Crisis at Southern Border, Office of the Texas Governor (Mar. 6, 2021),

[2] Id.

[3] Gov. Abbott’s Operation Lone Star ruled unconstitutional amid allegations of a ‘crisis of morale’ among soldiers on the border, Texas Public Radio (Jan. 19, 2022), []; Armando Garcia, Migrant’s arrest under ‘Operation Lone Star’ ruled unconstitutional, ABC News (Jan. 14, 2022), [].

[4] Garcia, supra note 3.

[5] Press Release, ICYMI: Operation Lone Star Surpasses 10,000 Felony Arrests, Continues to Secure the Border, Office of the Texas Governor (Mar. 25, 2022), [].

[6] Garcia, supra note 3.

[7] State v. Curipoma, 2022 Tex. App. LEXIS 1358, at 1.

[8] Id.

[9] Garcia, supra note 3.  

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Ex parte Guzman Curipoma, Cause No. D-1-GN-000058, in the 126th District Court of Travis County; Tony Plohetski, Travis County judge rules man’s arrest under Gov. Abbott’s ‘Operation Lone Star’ is unconstitutional, KVUE-TV (Jan. 14, 2022),

[13] Id.

[14] Curipoma, 2022 Tex. App. LEXIS at 1.

[15] Id. at 1-2.

[16] Id.

[17] Id. at 11.

[18] Katie Hall, After district court success, lawyers challenge more than 400 Operation Lone Star arrests, Austin-American Statesman (Jan. 20, 2022),

[19] U.S. Const. amend. VI.

[20] Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. 387, 393 (2012).

[21] Id.

[22] Id. at 416.

[23] Id. at 395.

[24] Id. at 362-3. Gade v. National Solid Wastes Management Ass’n, 505 U.S. 88 (1992); Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., 331 U.S. 218 (1947); Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52 (1941).

[25] Garcia, supra note 3.

[26] Texas Migrant Arrest Program Under ‘Operation Lone Star,’ ACLU Texas (Dec. 15, 2021),

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Id.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.