Immigration

Federal Judge Again Blocks Texas Gov. Abbott From Restricting Migrant Travel

The Department of Justice asked for the restraining order to keep Abbott from using state troopers to stop vehicles suspected of transporting migrants.

Asylum-seeking migrants’ families from Central America are being processed by the U.S. Border Patrol agents after crossing the Rio Grande into the United States from Mexico, in Penitas, Texas, U.S., July 8, 2021.

A federal judge in El Paso on Friday extended by two weeks a temporary restraining order blocking Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order restricting the transportation of migrants in the state.

The Department of Justice asked for the restraining order to keep Abbott from using state troopers to stop vehicles suspected of transporting migrants.

The Justice Department has argued that Texas attempted to unlawfully create its own "immigration regime."

Attorneys for the state have said the governor's executive order is about COVID-19 health concerns.

After Friday’s hearing, an attorney for the state said, "Overall, we think the state of Texas made its case. We're trying to deal with COVID-19 and the immigration crisis that has been thrust upon us."

The case comes amid a resurgence of the coronavirus with the spread of the delta variant. The Abbott administration has restrained Texas communities from instituting mask or vaccine mandates while focusing his COVID rhetoric on the border region.

“We all know the CDC, the science, the World Health Organization, all have said that these masks help in preventing the spread of COVID-19. But then he’s gonna blame it on the migrants,” said Domingo Garcia, national president for the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Federal immigration authorities encountered migrants more than 212,000 times last month, the highest monthly total in 20 years — including almost 19,000 unaccompanied children, the most ever in a single month. Although encounters reached record numbers, they don’t represent the number of unique individuals — 154,000 — that attempted to cross. Rather, they reflect how often people are trying to cross again.

In a visit to Brownsville, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas attributed the high number of repeat crossers to Title 42, a temporary public health policy that immediately expels migrants back to Mexico. Former President Trump implemented the measure at the start of the pandemic and President Biden has continued it.

Mayorkas acknowledged the challenge the large numbers of migrants are creating for immigration officials and local communities. Mayorkas said that a rising number of migrants are testing positive for COVID-19. But he pushed back on the claim that migrants are driving the dramatic rise in cases across the south.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas attends a news conference along with U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz, who is soon to be appointed as USBP Chief, at Border Patrol Fort Brown Station in Brownsville, Texas, U.S., August 12, 2021.

"The rate of positivity is at or lower than the rates in our local border communities," Mayorkas said. "We are building new capacity to address the situation, and we are doing so as rapidly as possible. The extent of the challenge should not be overstated. But nor should our ability to meet it."

Abbott has repeatedly said in television interviews that Texas is enforcing federal immigration law because he believes the Biden Administration has not been tough enough on crossings. In May, he issued a disaster declaration because, he said, illegal crossings "posed an ongoing and imminent threat of disaster."

Weeks later, he announced he would continue to build the border wall that Trump made central to his presidency. But Abbott went a step further, saying that he would arrest as many people as possible who cross by charging them with state crimes like trespassing and vandalism. Abbott then ordered the Texas National Guard to begin assisting state troopers with those arrests.

Immigrant rights activists said Abbott's order directing state troopers to stop any vehicles suspected of transporting migrants is illegal for a number of reasons, including the fact that immigration policy is under the purview of the federal government and that it invites racial profiling.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas has also filed a lawsuit against Abbott over his executive order. The ACLU said their lawsuit differs from the DOJ case because they are able to present the range of harms caused by the executive order to border communities, asylum seekers, their families, shelters, and drivers throughout Texas.

The ACLU filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of a number of immigrant rights organizations and NGO’s, including Annunciation House, one of the largest shelter providers on the U.S.-Mexico border, based in El Paso.

“The order would have very seriously affected the work of Annunciation House,” said Director Ruben Garcia, who notes their work involves the transportation of migrants. “Even to the point of stopping our operation and I think all NGOs across the border were wrestling with the order.”

The lawsuit was also filed on behalf of Angry Tías & Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley, a volunteer organization that aids migrants; Jennifer Harbury, a humanitarian volunteer who frequently drives migrants; and FIEL Houston, an immigrants' rights organization with members who include recently arrived migrants subject to restrictions on travel due to the executive order.

"Governor Abbott's executive order is blatantly unconstitutional and threatens to turn Texas into a ‘show me your papers' state," said Kate Huddleston, an attorney at the ACLU of Texas. "The order creates the perfect storm for racial profiling by allowing state troopers to view any group of people as ‘certain immigrants' violating the order. It will lead to unlawful detention, vehicle seizure, and the forced ‘rerouting' of vehicles to the Texas-Mexico border. This is yet another assault on Texans' civil rights by the governor and an effort to scapegoat immigrants in the state."

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