'Dangerous and Unlawful': Abbott's Immigrant Transportation Order Stalls

A federal judge temporarily blocked Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order directing police to pull over cars suspected of transporting migrants with COVID-19.
A federal judge temporarily blocked Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order directing police to pull over cars suspected of transporting migrants with COVID-19. Wiki Commons
When Gov Greg Abbott issued an executive order instructing state police to pull over cars suspected of carrying migrants who might have COVID-19 last week, he sparked the ire of both immigration advocates and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Advocates said the order, which empowers Texas Department of Public Safety officers to pull over any vehicle upon a "reasonable suspicion” of transporting migrants with COVID-19, would encourage racial profiling in communities across the state.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland sent a letter to Abbott the day after it was announced, ordering him to rescind the order, calling it “dangerous and unlawful.” After Abbott refused, the Department of Justice sued the state of Texas and Abbott in response last Friday.

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone of the Western District of Texas blocked the order from moving forward. ​"The Executive Order causes irreparable injury to the United States and to individuals the United States is charged with protecting, jeopardizing the health and safety of non-citizens in federal custody, risking the safety of federal law enforcement personnel and their families, and exacerbating the spread of COVID-19,” Cardone wrote.

Advocates also took legal action against the order Thursday. The American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of immigration activists filed a federal lawsuit against Abbott and the state, claiming that the order "threatens to turn Texas into a 'show me your papers' state."

After Garland urged Abbott to rescind the order, Abbott shot back in a letter to Garland the next day. The governor claimed the Biden administration’s lax enforcement of immigration laws has allowed large numbers of migrants with COVID-19 to enter Texas, driving up COVID-19 cases statewide.

“To be clear, the Biden administration is knowingly importing COVID-19 into Texas from across the border and knowingly exposing Texans and Americans to that disease,” Abbott said.

The Biden administration Monday renewed a Trump-era public health order that allows Border Patrol agents to quickly expel migrants in response to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide. Officials say the rule has allowed border patrol agents to turn away hundreds of thousands of migrants since its inception last March.

"Governor Abbott is doing this because of his next run for governor and potential run for president." - Eric Cedillo, Attorney & Professor of Law, Southern Methodist University

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In May, Abbott issued an executive order banning local governments from issuing mask mandates, despite conclusive evidence showing that masks save lives and limit viral spread.

“Governor Abbott is doing this because of his next run for governor and potential run for president. It’s politically motivated,” said Eric Cedillo, an attorney and professor of law at Southern Methodist University. “It has to be, because of the contradictions in terms of what he's maintaining with not allowing local government entities to enact mask mandates, while blaming immigrant communities for spreading COVID,” he said.

Abbott’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Cedillo agrees that the order's language will lead police officers to racially profile people. “It’s incredibly broad in terms of the scope it gives police officers to pull people over based on suspicion. How in the world do you delineate what is a suspicious vehicle? It's going to be people with a number of Hispanics or Latinos in the vehicle,” said Cedillo.

“It's a situation where you don't feel comfortable in your own skin because of the very real possibility that a trooper could pull you over based on what you look like,” he said.

Abbott is up for reelection next year, and is facing a challenge from within his own party. The approaching race, Cedillo said, animates Abbott's approach to coronavirus and immigration.

“He took a pretty decent stand at the beginning of COVID, going against some of the initial anti-mask folks from the beginning,” said Cedillo. “But unfortunately we’re now looking at a totally different Abbott, one who has become a political animal that will do whatever needs to be done to placate his base.”
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Michael Murney is a reporting fellow at the Dallas Observer and a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. His reporting has appeared in Chicago’s South Side Weekly and the Chicago Reader.
Contact: Michael Murney