Justice Dept. Warns Abbott: Rescind Migrant Order or Be Sued


The Biden administration took aim on Thursday at a crackdown by Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas on transportation for migrants, warning him to rescind his new executive order or be sued.

The order, announced on Wednesday, would prevent nonprofits and other private transportation suppliers from providing ground transit to many migrants, which would make it far harder for them to reach shelters or their final destinations in the United States. Mr. Abbott cited a risk of spreading the coronavirus, which has driven up cases and hospitalizations in the state in recent weeks.

In a letter to Mr. Abbott, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said that the order “violates federal law in numerous respects,” labeling it “both dangerous and unlawful,” and added that federal authorities would not be changing their transportation practices.

Mr. Abbott’s order bars the private transportation of migrants and reiterates an earlier assertion that the surge of people crossing the Texas-Mexico border “poses an ongoing and imminent threat of disaster” in Texas, “including the potential for the spread of Covid-19.”

The order says that only federal, state or local law enforcement officials can provide ground transportation to migrants who have been detained on suspicion of illegally entering the country, along with anyone who would have been subject to expulsion under “the Title 42 order.” The order can be invoked on health grounds to prohibit border crossings by those who are not citizens or permanent residents, or their spouses and children.

The United States often works with private companies and nonprofits to transport migrants in federal custody to other destinations. Mr. Garland said that Mr. Abbott’s order would impair migrants’ releases, making it difficult for them to appear at their immigration hearings, obstruct the federal government’s work to transport them to Covid-19 test sites and “exacerbate and prolong overcrowding in facilities and shelters.”

“To the extent the order interferes with immigration enforcement, the order is unconstitutional,” Mr. Garland said, adding that Texas had no authority to interfere with the federal government’s “broad, undoubted power over the subject of immigration.”

The order also says that the Texas Department of Public Safety can stop and impound any vehicle under “reasonable suspicion” of violating the directive. Immigration advocates warned of a new opening for racial profiling.

Mr. Abbott’s order offered a contrast to the decision he made earlier this month to refuse to issue a statewide mask mandates. When he announced that position, he said that it was “past the time of government mandates” to stop the spread of the virus and that people should be personally responsible for their health.


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