Texas State Troopers have been involved in over 1,o00 car chases along the border between Texas and Mexico since the onset of Operation Lone Star, the state’s response to crack down on illegal immigration. In a recent complaint filed by the ACLU and Texas Civil Rights Project with the Department of Justice, the organizations say these chases have caused 30 fatalities and injured more than 70 individuals. And of those 30 killed, five had nothing to do with the pursuit; they were merely on the same road as Troopers sped by without lights and sirens, according to the Texas Tribune.
Problems began when Governor Greg Abbott sent the State Troopers south in March of 2021. The Texas Department of Public Safety was one of the agencies tasked with securing the border, and DPS officers (State Troopers) were sent en masse to the area. Among the other agencies involved in the operation are the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (Texas Game Wardens) and the Texas National Guard.
Keep in mind, border crossings between the U.S. and Mexico aren’t the only point of inspection in South Texas. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection oversees a station 84 miles north of the border where those traveling further into the U.S. must stop, and the Border Patrol has stations throughout major cities in South Texas. The border is already heavily policed, but Governor Greg Abbott wanted more law enforcement in the area, so he sent the Troopers.
The State Trooper’s practices weren’t exactly welcome by federal agencies, after Troopers caused delays at border crossings to conduct “safety inspections” of commercial trucks. Abbott had to rescind the policy due to the chaos it caused at the bridges, but State Troopers remain in South Texas and their policing practices are now under investigation: the U.S. Department of Justice is looking into wrongful arrests, illegal detentions and due-process violations.
Now civil rights groups are also asking the DOJ to look into the State Trooper car chases, which they cite, correlate to an increase in routine traffic stops. Local news KRGV say drivers are now up to ten times as likely to be stopped. These stops are turning into car chases with “with alarming frequency,” per the ACLU.
They also say a lax pursuit policy is killing motorists and injuring bystanders. DPS policy states the choice to engage in a pursuit is at the discretion of the individual State Troopers. As a result of DPS not restricting pursuits, in nine months alone (March to December of 2021), troopers were involved in 1,046 police chases.
Numbers compiled from publicly available information in local and national news sources provide a detailed account of the fatalities. In one case, State Troopers claimed the death of a driver who crashed during a chase was due to an unrelated medical condition. And in other cases, bystanders have been hospitalized, including one child.
The ACLU says the chases are not just deadly, but racially-motivated, too. Many pursuits occur following traffic stops that target Latinos at a disproportionate rate. While the traffic stops can’t be called arbitrary, they can be called trivial: in some cases, stickers and windshield tinting were listed as reasons for routine traffic stops, which then turn into unwarranted car chases.
The 30 fatalities in South Texas caused by State Trooper pursuits have now exceeded all fatalities caused last year by the Border Patrol in high-speed chases across the entire U.S.-Mexico border — from Texas to California. The Border Patrol chases caused 23 deaths in 2021, but these occurred in remote areas, while the State Trooper chases are happening within city limits.