Border expert: Texas’ actions at Fronton Island interferes with federal immigration policy

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As Gov. Greg Abbott continues to double down on mobilizing state resources to address border security in Texas, so too are the policy experts and activist organizations — and more — who have characterized the governor’s actions as interference with federal policy to undermine the Biden administration.

The most recent example of state border security operations increasing in boldness came Monday, when the Texas Land Commissioner Dawn Buckingham, flanked by representatives of the Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Military Department, announced what they call the success of one operation’s efforts to stop illegal activities at the border with Mexico.

The head of the Texas General Land Office claimed at a press conference at the McAllen Convention Center on Monday that 100% of cartel activity at the border has ceased at Fronton Island, a more than 170-acre piece of land located between two channels of the Rio Grande just downstream from Fronton and across from Miguel Alemán in Tamaulipas.

It’s called Operation Flat Top, and it was made possible last year, when the GLO granted DPS access to Fronton Island on Sept. 7, which came after it was determined to be Texas-owned land, according to Buckingham.

This photo released by the Texas Military Department on Nov. 9, 2023 shows razor wire on Fronton Island. (Courtesy: Texas Military Department)

“The access, policing and management of vegetation on the island allowed DPS, in partnership with the Texas Military Department, to quickly bring an end to all cartel activity on the island,” Buckingham said during the conference.

On Nov. 27, the operation finished completely clearing the island of vegetation and leveled it while adding a DPS mobile command center and installing cameras around the island.

In addition, concertina wire was also installed from the east end of the island to the west to stop people from entering the United States via the river.

According to Buckingham, Fronton Island had been used by cartels in order to cross guns, ammunition, drugs and even human trafficking victims unobstructed through the southern border prior to the operation.

This photo released by the Texas Military Department on Nov. 9, 2023 shows Fronton Island. (Courtesy: Texas Military Department)

But not everyone agrees with GLO’s characterization of the activity and Abbott’s use of state departments’ resources.

Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, author of 2017’s “Los Zetas Inc.: Criminal Corporations, Energy, and Civil War in Mexico” and a professor at George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government, said she was taken aback by the state’s actions.

“What surprises me is that they are dealing unilaterally with an issue at the state level with an issue that is federal in the first place,” Correa-Cabrera said. “We’re talking about immigration and border security, which is a federal issue, and this is something being dealt [with] by the Texas government and that’s not their competency, in my view.”

While Correa-Cabrera admits that there is a cartel presence in Miguel Alemán, she has doubts about the human trafficking claims. She does, however, give the benefit of the doubt, stating that if the state’s claims are true, they would need to provide evidence.

Officials and machinery are shown in this photo released by the Texas Department of Public Safety on Nov. 10, 2023. (Courtesy: DPS)

The GLO said in a news release that the federal government has refused to “safeguard Texas communities and assist” in “its robust border security efforts.”

On Feb. 7, Senate Republicans blocked a carefully negotiated bipartisan border deal that many believe would’ve made the most significant changes in immigration and border security in decades.

Correa-Cabrera said Republicans’ decision just didn’t make sense.

“It seems to be a continuation of a strategy to kind of try to provide a sense of security at the border by the state government … just to say the federal government isn’t doing anything and we’re doing something, but they don’t have the capacity,” Correa-Cabrera said. “It’s unconstitutional and they will not solve the problem just by putting concertina wire and sending people to the border because the drugs in particular, most of them, enter through regular checkpoints.”

Texas Land Commissioner Dawn Buckingham , left, flanked by Texas Military Brigadier General Tanya Trout, right, along with Texas DPS personnel during a press conference at the McAllen Convention Center Monday, Feb. 12, 2024 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

Ricky Garza, border policy counsel for the Southern Border Communities Coalition based in McAllen, pointed to environmental concerns at Fronton Island as a result of the GLO’s actions there.

Garza also believes that Abbott should have communicated such plans for Fronton with the surrounding communities.

“Clear-cutting Fronton Island is an ecological and human rights disaster,” Garza asserted in a statement. “Instead of consulting with border communities in the Valley and addressing our needs, Governor Abbott’s response to the challenges in our communities has been only destruction of our natural ecosystem and militarization of the region already harmed by border wall construction.”

Correa-Cabrera and Garza are not the only voices expressing concern about Texas’ law enforcement activities at the border.

Texas Land Commissioner Dawn Buckingham flanked by Texas Military Brigadier General Tanya Trout, left, along with Texas DPS personnel during a press conference at the McAllen Convention Center Monday, Feb. 12, 2024 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that U.S. District Judge David Ezra referred to the impact of Texas’ law allowing police to arrest migrants on illegal entry charges as a “nightmare” due to several states enforcing various immigration laws.

That law may go into effect in March, and has prompted the federal judge to consider a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit against the state, according to the AP.

“Our communities deserve policies that respect the human rights of residents and asylum seekers, not more political theater and harm from Operation Lone Star in one of the most ecologically sensitive regions of the state,” Garza said.