A segment on the supposedly “inhumane treatment” of would-be migrants along the Texas-Mexico border under Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s program “Operation Lone Star,” which aired on the PBS NewsHour Wednesday evening, was a perfect example of the taxpayer-funded network’ coverage of current events.
White House correspondent Laura Barrón-López brought back to D.C. her reporting from a border community, coming out firmly against measures to keep migrants from crossing the river into the United States illegally.
Barrón-López talked to Garcia of the unlabeled liberal outlet Texas Tribune.
Barrón-López did go after President Biden — from the left — for not paying sufficient attention to the border, citing criticism from Rep. Castro about Biden not speaking out against the “human tragedies,” and adding her own indirect slap.
Years ago, PBS had a (somewhat unearned) reputation for sedate, politely liberal examinations. That façade has faded in favor of untrammeled advocacy along a predictable axis where Democratic politicians meet liberal journalists, and no Republicans need be heard from.
August 16, 2023
7:15:19 p.m. (ET)
Geoff Bennett: Reports of inhumane treatment, from the separation of families to razor wire on river buoys, has put a spotlight on the tactics of Operation Lone Star, Governor Greg Abbott’s effort to control migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.
White House correspondent Laura Barrón-López joins us now to explain.
So, Laura, Eagle Pass is this key border community where Texas Governor Greg Abbott is carrying out this program known as Operation Lone Star. What are the conditions like there right now?
Laura Barrón-López: I spoke to Congressman Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat who recently went to Eagle Pass to see what the conditions are like there, these new tactics that the governor has deployed.
And this is what he said he saw.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX): They have placed what I consider death traps along the Rio Grande River, this razor wire that’s placed in such a way that migrants can come up against it and not see it, barrel traps with wiring so that people can get caught.
In fact, two weeks ago, there was a dead body that was found attached to one of those barrels. They have got this saw-like device in the middle, which obviously is very dangerous.
Laura Barrón-López: The barrels that Congressman Castro is talking about right there are these floating barriers that Governor Greg Abbott has placed on the Rio Grande, which a lot of humanitarian and immigration advocates have had concern about because of the fact that migrants have to come across these when they’re trying to cross the border.
There’s also razor wire, sharp fencing that has been placed around these areas where migrants are trying to cross. I also spoke to Uriel Garcia, who is a Texas Tribune reporter, and he said that he went down there recently as well and saw people getting injured as they tried to bypass specifically the fencing, this razor wire fencing.
Now, a former border chief that I spoke to said that that type of fencing has been used by the Department of Homeland Security in the past, but that these tactics by Abbott are getting a lot of attention because they have been deployed in recent months.
Geoff Bennett: Yesterday, you were first to report about this letter from Hispanic Democrats to the Biden administration demanding action on Operation Lone Star.
What exactly are they calling for?
Laura Barrón-López: Congressman Joaquin Castro was — signed on to that letter that we were the first to report. And it was directed to Attorney General Merrick Garland, as well as Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
And Castro said that they want to see serious action from the Biden administration.
Rep. Joaquin Castro: Many of us were shocked and outraged when Donald Trump started separating families. Well, Greg Abbott has started to replicate a version of that now in Texas.
And there were reports that at least 26 families have been separated. And we’re asking the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice to make sure that there’s no federal funding that’s going towards family separation or towards any of these other activities that may violate human, civil or legal rights of people.
Laura Barrón-López: We received no response from the Justice Department or the Department — the Department of Homeland Security said that they also think there should be an investigation, but they didn’t specify whether or not they would actually be investigating the separation of fathers from their wives and children.
Geoff Bennett: On this issue of Democrats calling on the Biden administration to take action, the DOJ has done that, haven’t they? Didn’t the DOJ sue Texas over that floating barrier? Where does that stand?
Laura Barrón-López: So you’re right, Geoff, that the Justice Department has taken action on the floating barriers that Governor Greg Abbott put on the Rio Grande.
Now, the interesting part about this is that the Justice Department is saying that, of course, they don’t have the legal authority to place those barriers on the Rio Grande.
And the binational agency that oversees that territory, this international Rio Grande territory, it’s called the International Boundary and Water Commission, just put out a survey today that says that 80 percent of those buoys which, strung altogether, reach more than 900 feet, 80 percent of them are actually located on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, which would be an impediment, which would be actually a violation of Mexicans — of Mexico’s sovereignty of their territory.
And I spoke to Uriel Garcia, who is an immigration reporter for The Texas Tribune. And he said that Governor Greg Abbott is defending the decision this way.
Uriel Garcia, The Texas Tribune: What Governor Abbott has said is that Texas has the right to defend its borders, and that’s the reasoning for setting up the wiring sending the troopers and setting up this water barrier.
They are not citing specific statute to say why they’re doing this,. How they have described it is, they have been equating migrants with drug cartels and saying that the mass migration is bringing drugs and also is an act of invasion.
Laura Barrón-López: And so invasion is the language that Governor Greg Abbott is using, as though there is an invasion that is attacking Texas, and that that means that he has the right to declare these declarations, to place the floating barriers there to block migrants.
And what comes next now is, there is a court hearing next week where the court will consider the Justice Department’s lawsuit against the state of Texas.
Geoff Bennett: So this program has been in effect for two years now. What’s been the response on the ground.
Laura Barrón-López: Uriel Garcia, who had — went to Eagle Pass recently, said that, previously, there were a number of people in that border community that actually supported Operation Lone Star.
But, since then, they have actually soured on this program from the governor. And, in particular, he spoke to a farmer, a female farmer, who has private property there right along the border. And she told him that she’s not happy with this anymore.
Uriel Garcia: When she started seeing what the wiring was causing, the policies causing physical harm and emotional tolls on the migrants themselves, she started having second thoughts, particularly when she saw a pregnant woman trying to get through the wiring, and no one was helping her.
Keep in mind, this is a Republican who voted for Abbott, and is now having — is having regrets of allowing the state on her property to implement these policies.
Laura Barrón-López: She’s not the only one in Eagle Pass that told him that she has regrets about supporting this program. There are other local elected officials there who also don’t support it anymore because of the practices used by Governor Greg Abbott.
Now, I also asked Congressman Joaquin Castro, again, if he’s been satisfied, though, with the Biden administration’s response to everything that’s happening on the ground in Texas, and he said, essentially, that he’s not.
Rep. Joaquin Castro: I’m a supporter of the president. I want to see the president reelected next year. But I am surprised and disappointed that President Biden has not spoken out about these human tragedies. I think he should say something.
Laura Barrón-López: And, so far, we haven’t heard directly from the White House about this call for more investigations and for the Department of Homeland Security to take more aggressive action to stop Operation Lone Star’s tactics.
Geoff Bennett: Laura Barrón-López, thank you so much for that valuable reporting. We appreciate it.
Laura Barrón-López: Thank you.