Lawmakers seek probe of Texas governor's border mission over troop suicides and pay delays

click to enlarge Gov. Greg Abbott puts on his best scowl and faux-military shirt at a recent border press conference. - Instagram / governorabbott
Instagram / governorabbott
Gov. Greg Abbott puts on his best scowl and faux-military shirt at a recent border press conference.
Thirteen Democratic members of Texas' congressional delegation are demanding an investigation into Gov. Greg Abbott's immigration crackdown, citing abysmal conditions for Texas National Guard troops at the border and a string of soldier suicides.

The letter sent Thursday to Col. Daniel Heape, inspector general of the Texas Military Department, seeks an extensive probe into how "deplorable conditions" on the Republican governor's Operation Lone Star are affecting the "well-being, morale and overall readiness of our troops."

“It is clear State leadership does not have our troops' best interest in mind. Instead, they continue to use them as political props, whether it be through assigning them to support [Operation Lone Star] or by refusing to comply with federal vaccine requirements intended to protect them from COVID-19,” the request reads.

The letter is signed by three members of San Antonio's delegation: U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro, Henry Cuellar and Lloyd Doggett. Last fall, Castro sent a separate letter to the White House demanding the Justice Department look into potential civil-rights violations under the governor's border crackdown.

Launched last year amid Abbott's effort to win a third term, Operation Lone Star dispatched state troopers and some 10,000 Texas Guard members to arrest migrants for minor property crimes.

The sweep has become lightning rod of controversy amid reports of late paychecks for Texas Guard troops, poor working conditions and four suicides among soldiers tied to the mission. Civil-rights groups have also raised concerns the mission violates migrants' constitutional rights and has created a legal morass along the border.

The lawmakers' request comes after a damning report on Thursday that of 150 hardship requests from Texas Guard troops deployed on the mission, at least 127 filed between October and November were denied. The rejections arrived amid reports of widespread drinking among troops who feel like their deployment is pointless, according to the news outlet.

In late December, the Army Times reported on four suicides by Guard soldiers involved in Operation Lone Star. Shortly after the start of the new year, the publication reported on another suicide attempt and the death of a solider who reportedly shot himself accidentally in an alcohol-related incident.

What's more, both the Army Times and the Texas Tribune obtained an incident report showing that yet another Guard member based along the border survived a suicide attempt Sunday. That solider was reportedly taken to the hospital after telling another that she'd taken prescription medications with alcohol.

On Tuesday, Abbott accused his critics of "playing politics" by bringing up suicides among Texas Guard troops, according to a Texas Tribune report. Without providing proof, he said he doesn't think all of the suicides “actually occurred during Operation Lone Star.”

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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