DOJ sues Texas, Gov. Abbott over executive order restricting travel of migrants

Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaking at a press conference at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on May 18, 2020.

Lynda M. Gonzalez-Pool | Getty Images

The U.S. Justice Department on Friday sued Texas and its governor, Greg Abbott, to block a state executive order aimed at restricting the travel of undocumented migrants who could potentially transmit Covid-19. 

The complaint states that Abbott’s executive order, issued Wednesday, interferes with the federal government’s ability to lawfully release and transport migrants, adding it violates intergovernmental immunity. 

“No State may obstruct the Federal Government in the discharge of its constitutional responsibilities,” the department said in its complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in El Paso. 

The lawsuit comes a day after Attorney General Merrick Garland threatened to pursue “legal remedies” if Abbott failed to rescind the executive order. 

Abbott’s order limits the ground transportation of illegal migrants recently released from U.S. Border Patrol custody “who pose a risk of carrying Covid-19 into Texas communities.”

It directs the Texas Department of Public Safety to stop and turn around vehicles suspected of carrying such migrants, and cites the surge of people crossing the Texas-Mexico border as an “ongoing and imminent” threat.

The order is framed as a public health order, as Covid cases in the state surge, while Abbott has openly expressed opposition to new mask mandates and vaccine requirements. It drew sharp criticism from Garland, who wrote a letter to Abbott on Thursday that called the order illegal and unconstitutional.

“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 wrote in his letter to Abbott.

In response, Abbott said in a statement Thursday he would fight off any effort from the Justice Department to block the executive order.

“(T)he Biden Administration is jeopardizing the health and safety of Texans on a daily basis by refusing to follow the law. And it’s not just Texans; these irresponsible policies and actions by the Biden Administration are endangering the lives of many Americans as well as the unlawful immigrants themselves,” Abbott said in the statement. “I will take every available step consistent with the law to fulfill my duty to protect the health and safety of all Texans.”

The newly filed lawsuit is the latest pushback from the Biden administration over the actions taken by Abbott on the U.S.-Mexico border, such as jailing migrants on state crimes and building new border fencing. Abbott, a Republican, has aimed to follow former President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration stance.

It also comes as the Biden administration grapples with a surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, with detentions hitting 20-year highs in recent months. 

Over 1.1 million apprehensions have been recorded during the first six months of this fiscal year, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. And a record high of nearly 190,000 apprehensions were recorded in June alone. 

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