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Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Abbott Order on Transportation Stops

August 4, 2021 by Reece Nations
A Texas Department of Public Safety officer in Del Rio, Texas directs a group of migrants who crossed the border and turned themselves in. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone issued a temporary restraining order on Tuesday impeding Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order directing state troopers to detain drivers suspected of transporting migrants due to COVID-19 concerns.

Abbott issued the order last week, allowing Texas Department of Safety troopers to stop any vehicle upon “reasonable suspicion” that its driver is transporting migrants into the state from the Mexico border. The order grants law enforcement the authority to reroute the vehicles back to their port of entry or to impound the vehicle if the driver refuses to be rerouted.

Cardone’s restraining order will expire on Aug. 13 when the court is scheduled for its next hearing. Abbott insisted in another written statement that the Biden administration was at fault for creating a “constitutional crisis” between Texas and the federal government by refusing to enforce immigration laws.

“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 in a written statement. “This executive order will reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure in our communities.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a letter in response to the order threatening legal action, warning of its implications and declaring that the state lacks jurisdiction to interfere with federal immigration enforcement. Immigration advocates contend Abbott’s order disrupts federal immigration efforts and encourages racial profiling of border residents.

In July, Abbott extended the COVID-19 disaster declaration in the state for the month of August and renewed the border security disaster declaration first issued in May. In the order’s text, Abbott cites data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection indicating the agency has seen a 900% increase in the number of migrant detainees testing positive for COVID-19 in the Rio Grande Valley.

The Department of Justice announced on Friday it had filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Abbott’s order and prompted the restraining order issued by Cardone.

“The court’s recent order is temporary and based on limited evidence. We look forward to providing the court with the evidence to support the governor’s executive order to protect Texans,” the Office of the Governor Press Secretary Renae Eze said in a written statement.

“The Biden [administration] has knowingly — and willfully — released COVID-19 positive migrants into Texas communities, risking the potential exposure and infection of Texas residents. The governor’s executive order attempts to prevent the Biden administration from spreading COVID-19 into Texas and protect the health and safety of Texans.”

Although Abbott and his allies continue to cite the COVID-19 concerns in defense of the transportation order’s implementation, Abbott previously issued an executive order in May prohibiting governmental entities in Texas from mandating mask-wearing.

That order applies to counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities or government officials. Failure to comply with the order can result in a fine of up to $1,000. Mask-wearing guidelines for public schools in Texas expired on June 4.

“The order would jeopardize the health and safety of noncitizens in federal govern­ment custody, federal law enforcement personnel and their families, and our communities,” Garland’s letter read. “Among other harms, the order would exacerbate and prolong overcrowding in facilities and shelters and obstruct the federal government’s arrangements with state, local, and non­-governmental partners to ensure that released individuals are transported for appropriate COVID-19 testing to address public health concerns.”

Garland continued in the letter, “Additionally, because federal law requires individuals processed for release to appear before immigration courts or report to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices throughout the country, the order di­rectly interferes with the implementation of federal immigration law.”

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