EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — A federal judge on Thursday issued an injunction on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order authorizing state troopers to stop vehicles suspected of transporting migrants.
District Judge Kathleen Cardone handed down the injunction. She first issued a temporary restraining order on Aug. 3, after the U.S. filed a lawsuit, alleging that the order obstructs the enforcement of federal immigration law.
Cardone wrote then that Abbott’s executive order “violates the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution because it conflicts with, and poses an obstacle to, federal immigration law, and it directly regulates the federal government’s operations.”
Abbott issued the order in late July on grounds that migrants might spread COVID-19.
It states that “no person, other than a federal, state, or local law enforcement official shall provide ground transportation to a group of migrants who have been detained by CBP for crossing the border illegally or who would have been subject to expulsion under the Title 42 order. (Title 42 is a public health order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March 2020 to prevent the cross-border spread of COVID-19.)
The order cited an incident in which a group of migrants who had recently tested positive for the coronavirus were supposed to be isolated at a South Texas hotel but were seen at a Whataburger restaurant in the town of La Joya.
Since early February, the Department of Homeland Security has been releasing certain migrants to nongovernmental organizations in the Rio Grande Valley, pending their U.S. immigration court proceedings. One of those organizations, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, tests the migrants for the coronavirus and relocates them; those whose test positive are taken to hotels in the area to isolate.
Abbott directed the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to stop any vehicle suspected of transporting migrants and reroute them back to where they originated. DPS had also been given the authority to impound a vehicle that violates the executive order.
“The dramatic rise in unlawful border crossings has also led to a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases among unlawful migrants who have made their way into our state, and we must do more to protect Texans from this virus and reduce the burden on our communities,” Abbott said. “This Executive Order will reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure in our communities.”
In her ruling, Cardone said Abbott’s order “does little to protect the public health, and that the state of Texas did not present evidence that noncitizens entering the United States at the border pose a particular health risk such that restricting their transportation would improve health and safety.
A separate challenge to Abbott’s order was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Texas, on behalf of the El Paso-based Annunciation House, which provides migrants with temporary shelter; 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.
The two cases have been consolidated for pretrial purposes.
Kate Huddleston, an attorney at the ACLU of Texas, called Abbott’s order “blatantly unconstitutional.”
“With the court’s injunction, our plaintiffs — including shelter providers, humanitarians, and immigrants living in Texas — will be able to live their lives and provide refuge for asylum-seekers free from the threat of having their vehicles impounded or being forced to drive to the border,” Huddleston said in a stement. “This is the first step to ensuring that this latest assault on Texans’ civil rights and effort to scapegoat immigrants by the governor is unsuccessful.”
Spencer Amdur, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, also issued a statement, saying his clients brought this lawsuit because the executive order is “illegal and inhumane.”
“Texas Gov. Greg Abbott launched an unprecedented attack on migrants and the federal immigration system, and the court was right to block the order,” Amdur said.