Attorney General sues Abbott over ban on transporting COVID-infected migrants

Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP

Governor Abbott signed an order Wednesday banning ground transportation of migrants who “pose a risk of carrying COVID-19 into Texas communities.” The purpose of such an order is to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in border communities due to the flood of migrants. “DPS is to stop & reroute, or impound any vehicle being used to transport illegal migrants who have been detained by Border Patrol.”

In order for the Border Patrol to ease the overcrowding of shelters along the border, they are releasing the illegal migrants into communities who are then bussed out to other places, either in Texas or other states. COVID-19 infected illegal migrants are making their way into communities and local officials are concerned about the public health of their residents. Without help from the federal government, Governor Abbott has little choice but to take matters into his own hands. So he did. Responding to pleas from local officials for help, like Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, Abbott signed the ban on ground transportation. The negative reaction from critics, including Attorney General Merrick Garland, came quickly. Garland threatened to sue Abbott if he didn’t rescind the order.

Governor Abbott left the order in place, to the surprise of absolutely no one. He sent a letter Friday to Attorney General Garland stating, “It is clear from arguments in your letter that the State of Texas and the federal government face a constitutional crisis. The authority that you assert to protect noncitizens directly conflicts with my authority, and duty, to protect citizens of Texas.”

The Biden administration didn’t sit up and take notice of the continued problems of local communities as they try to handle the situation on the ground caused by the Biden border crisis. No. DOJ instead carried through with the attorney general’s threat of a lawsuit. It asked a federal judge to block Abbott’s order.

The lawsuit seeks to invalidate the order, which Mr. Abbott issued Wednesday after local officials in the Rio Grande Valley complained of federal officials releasing immigrants there and of asylum-seeking migrants in the care of Catholic Charities leaving their Covid-19 quarantine to go to a hamburger restaurant.

The Justice Department also asked a federal judge to immediately halt implementation of the order, saying it “threatens to significantly disrupt federal immigration operations in Texas at a critical time when the United States is facing a once-in-a-century pandemic as well as a significant influx of noncitizens.” The lawsuit noted that the government frequently uses private contractors to transport noncitizens between facilities, and that nonprofits and private bus companies must transport people to shelters and legal proceedings.

The DOJ’s lawsuit says that Abbott’s order “causes injury to the United States and to individuals whom the United States is charged to protect, jeopardizing the health and safety of noncitizens in federal custody, risking the safety of federal law enforcement personnel and their families, and exacerbating the spread of Covid-19 in our communities.” What about the health and safety of Texans? The federal government is picking winners and losers and in this case, illegal migrants are being protected at the expense of legal residents in Texas.

Illegal immigration is big business. If the Biden administration is concerned about NGO contracts that provide transportation for transferring illegal migrants around the state, then those providers should be tasked with testing and making sure they are not moving COVID-19 infected people around the state, often with no prior notice to local officials. One non-profit frequently pointed to in reporting is that of the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas. It is run by Catholic Charities and is the largest such facility in the RGV. It is also the facility that provided a hotel room for a COVID-19 infected family who then left their room and walked over to a nearby Whataburger, exposing an undetermined amount of people during their trip for burgers.

“The families we assist at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, have been released from federal custody and arrive at our shelter through daily coordination with [Customs and Border Protection],” Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities, said in a statement Thursday. “Throughout the pandemic, we have taken extra precautions so that our local community is safe.”

People fall through the cracks, especially as the RGV area is so overcrowded with illegal migrants. There is no way Sister Norma can guarantee the safety of the community with the resources she has. Her facility is full. The Border Patrol continues to dump migrants that have been apprehended because there is nowhere for them to go. The open-borders advocates complain that Abbott’s order is too broad and will likely create unlawful vehicle stops.

Some advocates said Abbott’s order — which calls for stopping “any vehicle upon reasonable suspicion” that it is carrying migrants — also appears to violate the constitutional rights of Latinos by leading authorities to racially profile drivers and passengers.

“The language is shockingly broad,” said Andre Segura, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “This is probably, on its face, one of the most blatantly unconstitutional attempts by a state to enforce immigration law.”

“He’s scapegoating this community,” Segura said. “You can’t have it both ways, where you don’t treat COVID as serious for Texas in general, but then attempt to interfere with the lawful right to seek asylum here.”

Segura referred to another order Abbott signed this week. Abbott signed Executive Order GA-38 which combines several existing COVID-19 executive orders to promote statewide uniformity and certainty in the state’s COVID-19 response. Abbott encourages Texans to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and reminds everyone that there is an abundant supply of vaccines. He also denies the need for Biden’s latest face mask mandates. Abbott sides with personal responsibility over government mandates.

“Today’s executive order will provide clarity and uniformity in the Lone Star State’s continued fight against COVID-19,” said Gov. Abbott. “The new Executive Order emphasizes that the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates. Texans have mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19. They have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, and engage in leisure activities. Vaccines, which remain in abundant supply, are the most effective defense against the virus, and they will always remain voluntary – never forced – in the State of Texas.”

The battle between the Biden administration and Texas in handling the Biden border crisis continues. Governor Abbott released a statement after DOJ’s action Friday.

Abbott responded minutes after the lawsuit was filed: “Until President Biden and his administration do their jobs to enforce the laws of our nation and protect Americans, the State of Texas will continue to step up to protect our communities and uphold the rule of law.”