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West Virginia National Guard members deployed to southern border return home

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West Virginia National Guard members deployed to southern border return home

Sep 07, 2023 | 4:18 pm ET
By Caity Coyne
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West Virginia National Guard members deployed to southern border return home
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Jim Justice welcomes back National Guard members who volunteered for Operation Lone Star in Texas. (Office of Gov. Jim Justice | Courtesy photo)

The 53 members of the West Virginia National Guard who were deployed to the southern border last month returned to the Mountain State Thursday, according to a news release from Gov. Jim Justice.

The month-long deployment had Guard members stationed at Eagle Pass, Texas, a desert bordertown. Per the release, members of the Guard encountered more than 10,000 migrants and asylum seekers attempting to cross into the United States during their deployment. 

The mission cost West Virginia taxpayers about $600,000. All those deployed were volunteers. While in Texas, members of the West Virginia Guard did not have the authority to process people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, as that is a federal responsibility.

The Guard was activated by Justice to “support” Operation Lone Star — an increasingly controversial border security initiative launched by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in 2021. Justice, who is currently running a campaign for U.S. Senate, was one of 14 Republican governors to send troops to the border in response to a request made by Abbott in May.

Operation Lone Star has come under heavy and persistent fire from local advocates in Texas due to repeated human rights violations committed against migrants at the border. They have called the mobilization from other states like West Virginia nothing more than political theater.

Dozens of individuals have filed suit against Abbott for constitutional rights violations carried out under Operation Lone Star and in July the Department of Justice notified Texas that it intended to file suit against Abbott for a floating border barrier — installed mostly by National Guard members from several states over the last few years — in the Rio Grande river.

This came almost exactly a year after the Texas Tribune and ProPublica reported that the DOJ was opening an investigation into discrimination and civil rights violations carried out by soldiers working on Operation Lone Star.

In his release Thursday, Justice said he was “proud” of the members who volunteered for the mission for “putting their [lives] on the line.” 

At least 10 service members in Operation Lone Star have died by suicide, medical emergencies and accidents since the operation expanded its scope in 2021. 

“Congratulations on a job well done,” Justice told members on Thursday. “I cannot possibly be more proud, and it’s a real honor to celebrate your return home.”