September 6, 2023 916 PM
PRESIDIO — Last Friday, branches of the nonprofit Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR) in El Paso, Presidio and the Rio Grande Valley observed a day of action in opposition to Operation Lone Star, the controversial, multibillion-dollar state initiative to bolster border security by funneling resources and personnel into border communities — an initiative BNHR’s executive director criticized for perpetuating “racism, xenophobia and inhumanity.” Participating events were tailored to each community in accordance with the organization’s mission of uniting and empowering borderlands residents.
The Presidio branch of the BNHR — a relatively new addition to the network — has traditionally opted for hosting educational sessions to try to spread the organization’s message as it grows into a local institution. Last Friday’s local day of action followed suit as the organization’s leaders hosted an informative tabling session at St. Francis Plaza. Attendees then made signs and stood in peaceful protest along the city’s main street.
“[There were] just a few people, but they were educated on human rights in Presidio and came together to stay and help the community,” said local coordinator Celia Arzaga.
The organization has been vocally opposed to Operation Lone Star since the program’s launch during the 2021 legislative session. This year’s state budget, which took effect last Friday, devoted roughly $5 billion to border security, the bulk of which will go towards Operation Lone Star.
The recent legislative session also saw the passage of several bills to increase enforcement along the border. Under the new laws, Border Patrol –– a federal agency — will have the power to detain people suspected of committing state crimes, and other states will be able to share funding and resources for border security purposes.
This year’s budget will include even more funding through bills like SB 22, which will set aside money for rural sheriff’s departments and prosecutors with heavy immigration-related caseloads. This year, Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez is set to get a raise of over $20,000 under SB 22; County Attorney Rod Ponton also planned to apply for funding to hire a full-time assistant.
Last week’s actions carried an extra somber tone after the shooting of a Mexican national in Juárez. On the evening of August 26, an as-yet-unidentified National Guardsman shot Darwin José García from across the Rio Grande.
In December 2022, Texas Governor Greg Abbott dispatched the National Guard to the border as a part of Operation Lone Star. Since then, other states — including Idaho, Tennessee and Nebraska — have deployed their own troops to the border in support.
BNHR Executive Director Fernando Garcia felt that the shooting along the Rio Grande was just the latest in a string of violent incidents related to Operation Lone Star disrupting everyday life along the border. “Our safe and secure border communities are now filled with concertina wire, physical barriers, buoys, staged vehicles, and hundreds of military personnel,” he wrote in a press release.
In El Paso, BNHR hosted a community march and a rally starting from Sacred Heart Church, which has served as a sanctuary for thousands of migrants as shifting immigration policy has left many in limbo. The communities of Brownsville, San Juan and Pharr in the Rio Grande Valley hosted a press conference, community-building event and rally, respectively.