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'Unlawful And Dangerous' — DOJ Sues Gov. Abbott Over Migrant Transportation Restrictions

Trump visits the U.S.-Mexico border
Texas Governor Greg Abbott exits the stage with former U.S. President Donald Trump after a visit to an unfinished section of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border in Pharr, Texas, U.S. June 30, 2021. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

This post has been updated. It was originally published on Wednesday, July 28.

The Department of Justice has sued Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for his recent executive order that restricts the transportation of detained migrants. The DOJ called the order “dangerous and unlawful.”

The DOJ originally sent Abbott a letter asking him to rescind the order, which he refused to do. He said the Biden administration is "endangering the lives" of Americans and undocumented immigrants.

In his order, signed Wednesday, Abbott links the restrictions to what he describes as "a dramatic rise in COVID-19 among unlawful migrants."

Immigrant rights activists described that as misleading, and they characterized the governor's action as unconstitutional and fascist.

The executive order states that only local, state and federal law enforcement agencies may provide ground transportation. The order allows law enforcement to stop, reroute or impound any vehicle that they reasonably suspect may be violating the order. The governor’s order did not detail what constitutes reasonable suspicion.

“This is clearly an anti immigrant order that will lead to both racial profiling and over policing," said Kate Huddleston, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

According to the order, these measures are due to an increase in COVID-19 cases in Texas. The American Immigration Council points out that migrants make up a minuscule percentage of overall positive coronavirus tests.

The ACLU said Abbott's order restricting the transportation of migrants is unconstitutional for a variety of reasons.

"One is that the federal government — not the states — is in charge of immigration policy," Huddleston said. "Governor Abbott has several times over the past couple of months attempted to create his own version of immigration policy and to enforce his own version of immigration policy. But the Constitution does not allow him to do that. Immigration policy is up to the federal government."

On Tuesday, Abbott ordered the Texas National Guard to begin arresting migrants at the Texas-Mexico border.

Abbott said the guard members are needed to assist law enforcement in arresting migrants at the border who break state laws, such as trespassing and vandalism.

With his latest Executive Order, the Governor articulates more of a shadow immigration policy and draws threats from Justice Department.

The guard members will add to the growing number of law enforcement personnel already deployed to the region since Abbott issued a disaster declaration in May.

That includes troops from other Republican-led states who responded to calls from Abbott to assist in border security efforts.

Related: On The Texas-Mexico Border, Gov. Abbott’s Disaster Declaration Rings Political

This is the latest move in Abbott's efforts to control what he has deemed a crisis at the Southern border, which he blames on the Biden administration.

There were nearly 189,000 attempted crossings in June.

Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar — whose district includes parts of the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo and San Antonio — said in a statement to TPR following Abbott's disaster declaration, “I cannot in good conscience agree with the governor’s decision — this is not a disaster. As someone who lives on the border, our communities are dealing with a complex humanitarian crisis.”

TPR's Lauren Terrazas contributed to this report.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.

Carolina Cuellar reports for Texas Public Radio from the city of McAllen where she covers business and border issues. Her position is made possible by Report For America — a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
As TPR's news director, Katz leads the organization’s news and journalism efforts, overseeing the newsroom’s day-to-day management and the development of a strategic vision for the news division. He also serves on the organization’s executive leadership team.
Kathleen Creedon can be reached at kathleen@tpr.org or on Twitter at @Kath_Creedon