Greg Abbott
Operation Lone Star was launched in 2021 to counter border crossings. Are their efforts working now? The answer is complicated. Reuters

Two years ago, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott launched Operation Lone Star as a response to the increased influx of undocumented immigrants through the Southern border. Since its launch, the infamous operation has cost more than $11 billion in taxpayer money. But despite its high tag price, is it working?

Since 2021, there has been an overall decrease in the number of migrants trying to enter the border through the Rio Grande into Eagle Pass. This trend has been shown not only by Abbott in recent interviews, but also through federal statistics.

In fact, more migrants were encountered by Border Patrol agents outside of Texas each of the first three months of this year, according to the Texas Tribune. During the 2023 fiscal year, Texas on average accounted for roughly 59% of migrant encounters along the southwest border. During the first half of the 2024 fiscal year, which began in October, Texas has on average accounted for 43% of migrant encounters.

"We are having a profound impact in stopping the flow of illegal immigration into the state of Texas," Abbott said in an interview, crediting Operation Lone Star as the primary reason for this trend.

But regardless of these claims, the actual reasons for this decrease in migrant encounters is actually more complicated, according to The Texas Tribune.

"He can, with no evidence and no real deep analysis, claim all the credit he wants to — and good for him," said Tony Payan, director of the Center for the United States and Mexico at the Baker Institute, a nonpartisan policy research organization based at Rice University in Houston. "But those of us who have been looking at immigration for a long time would probably be a lot more skeptical."

So what accounts for this decrease? A combination of several factors, according to experts.

One of them being Mexico's recent increased enforcement efforts by arresting or detaining more migrants from other countries, said Adam Isacson, director of defense oversight at the Washington Office of Latin America, an advocacy group for human rights in the Americas.

But according to The Tribune, Mexican statistics indicate that the country is not deporting people and recent court decisions have ruled that migrants can't be detained for more than 36 hours for the most part.

Experts also believe that it is possible that Senate Bill 4, Texas' new immigration law that would let state police arrest people suspected of entering the country illegally, is causing a "wait and see" moment that typically accompanies any new immigration policy, Isacson said.

"If the courts allow SB 4 to go forward, the numbers might drop even more," Isacson said. "But then they will come back... Migrants will realize that ultimately it's just another speed bump."

Policy experts also credit the Biden administration for the recent trend, pointing out a visit from frop top U.S. officials, like Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejando Mayorkas, to Mexico to discuss immigration with their Mexican counterparts.

Another major change last year was the expiration of Title 42, a policy launched by the Trump administration at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that allowed U.S.border officials to quickly remove migrants to Mexico without allowing them to claim asylum.

Since at least 2019, Border Patrol agents in the Texas sectors of the border have recorded more encounters with migrants each month than the rest of the other states. Until last fall.

In November, non-Texas sectors recorded roughly 104,000 migrant encounters compared to about 87,000 recorded in Texas' five sectors. The biggest decrease in encounters occurred in the Del Rio sector, which includes Eagle Pass, where agents recorded more than 70,000 migrant encounters in December compared to fewer than 20,000 in each of the first months of 2024, The Texas Tribune reports.

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