Questions, criticism surround Gov. Abbott’s recent executive order allowing DPS to stop migrants in vehicles

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered state troopers on Wednesday to begin pulling over vehicles whose drivers are transporting migrants who pose a risk of carrying COVID-19, escalating his hardline approach on immigrants.

TEXAS – The US Attorney General sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, urging him to rescind a recent executive order regarding restricting the travel of certain migrants.

Attorney General Merrick Garland wrote that the order “violates federal law in numerous respects.”

Abbott responded quickly to the Attorney General’s letter by saying:

“It is clear that the Biden Administration fundamentally misunderstands what is truly happening at the Texas-Mexico border. The current crisis at our southern border, including the overcrowding of immigration facilities and the devastating spread of COVID-19 that the influx of non-citizens is causing, is entirely the creation of the Biden Administration and its failed immigration policies,” Abbott wrote.

The exchange came as the question remains as to how state troopers will enforce Abbott’s order. The order states “no person, other than a federal, state, or local law-enforcement official, shall provide ground transportation to a group of migrants who have been detained by CBP for crossing the border illegally.”

The order further instructs state troopers to stop, as well as potentially reroute or impound, any vehicles suspected of transporting immigrants released from Customs and Border Protection’s custody after being caught crossing the border illegally.

“There are more questions than answers at this point,” said Cesar Espinosa, executive director of FIEL. “We’re concerned it will lead to racial profiling. That it will lead to people just getting pulled over for no reason.”

RELATED: Gov. Abbott issues executive order to restrict ground transportation of migrants citing rise of COVID-19 cases

Abbott said he is trying to prevent the further spread of COVID and cites rising numbers of the disease in border communities. He further said many caught along the southern border come from countries with “lower vaccination rates than the United States.”

Customs and Border Protection has stated it does not test immigrants caught illegally crossing the border, but those who are released are sent to non-governmental organizations who do conduct testing and who placed those who are positive in quarantine shelters. However, some border communities have complained this process doesn’t ensure all those who are COVID positive are placed in quarantine before traveling to other parts of the country.

The city of Hidalgo recently sued the federal government over the release of COVID-positive immigrants to a shelter in that city. City officials claim the system is flawed since only those immigrants who are taken to an NGO get tested.

“This leaves those (Refugees, Immigrants and/or Migrants) who either choose not to go to the shelters or do not qualify to be housed at the shelter, to be released into the general public--local bus stations, the airport, etc.--without having been tested for COVID-19 and potentially exposing others to the risk of infection,” the lawsuit reads.

KPRC 2 has asked the governor’s office to clarify how this order will be enforced, but we have not yet received a response. Associate Director of the Center for Mexican/American studies, Jeronimo Cortina, worries the state has no backup plan for how it will handle large groups of immigrants forced to remain in Texas border communities after being released from CBP custody. Many immigrants released from custody leave the area to stay with family or friends in other cities while their immigration case or an asylum claim is decided.

“We haven’t heard what they are going to do with those migrants,” said Cortina. “Usually migrants are released when they have a certain contact; family members, friends who are able to give them shelter until their case is over.”

Garland’s letter also points out those released from custody are ordered to appear in immigration court in other cities.

“The order directly interferes with the implementation of federal immigration law,” Garland wrote.

South Texas College of Law Constitutional Law professor Josh Blackman said the Governor’s order could also be construed as another version of an Arizona law that was struck down by the US Supreme Court. The now-defunct state law gave local law enforcement the ability to check a person’s immigration status.

“I think this new order, depending on how it’s enforced, could run afoul of the Supreme Court’s Arizona decision,” said Blackman.

While CBP does not have statistics on how many immigrants released from its custody later test positive for COVID-19, Immigration and Customs and Enforcement do keep those records on detainees. ICE reports out of the 264,176 detainees tested since February of 2020, 8.3-percent have tested positive for COVID.

About the Author:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”