The Biden Administration has sued Texas over its new directive that allows state troopers to stop and turn back vehicles carrying immigrants, fearing a surge in COVID-19 spread. This drew swift backlash from the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”), noting that Texas is hindering federal immigration policies.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order allowing the Texas Department of Public Safety to “stop any vehicle upon reasonable suspicion” that the vehicle is transporting immigrants. If passengers are identified as undocumented immigrants, the troopers can send them back to their point of origin or impound them. In releasing the directive, Gov. Abbott said, “[W]e must do more to protect Texans from this virus and reduce the burden on our communities.”
Attorney General’s Letter to Gov. Abbott
A day after the directive was issued, Attorney General Merrick Garland urged Gov. Abbott to strike it down. Attorney General Garland wrote a letter noting that “the order is both dangerous and unlawful.” Gov. Abbott countered, “[t]he Biden Administration is jeopardizing the health and safety of Texans on a daily basis by refusing to follow the law.”
Gov. Abbott also stated that stopping state troopers from carrying out inspections would deter the state from discharging its duties to Texas residents. “It is clear from the arguments in your letter that the State of Texas and the federal government face a constitutional crisis,” Abbott wrote.
Biden Administration Files Lawsuit Against Texas
The lawsuit filed in the federal court in El Paso poses the same issues as the letter sent by the Attorney General to the Texas governor, arguing that the state was usurping the federal government’s responsibility to enforce immigration laws.
The lawsuit filed by the Biden Administration escalates the already prevalent tensions between the administration and Gov. Abbott, whose actions on the border have included jailing migrants for state crimes and building new barriers. The two-term governor has followed a hard line on immigration. Civil rights groups and immigration advocates have raised concerns that this would lead to troopers stopping vehicles based on racial profiling. Also, the shelters to house immigrants are already filled beyond capacity.
The Surge in Immigrants Entering the United States
The Rio Grande Valley Sector in Texas is one of the busiest corridors for undocumented immigrants’ crossings. On July 29, the border saw 8,300 migrants taken into custody, with an average processing time of 57 hours, said Rio Grande Valley Chief Control Agent Brian Hastings. Further, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) reported 646 children were taken into custody crossing the border alone on July 30, compared to the daily average of 480 over the past 30 days.
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