A federal judge in El Paso on Tuesday temporarily blocked Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's (R) order that state troopers stop vehicles carrying migrants, siding with the Biden administration. The Justice Department sued Abbott and Texas on Friday, two days after Abbott issued his latest controversial immigration order and one day after Attorney General Merrick Garland called that order "dangerous and unlawful." Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze underscored that U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone's injunction "is temporary and based on limited evidence."
Last week, Abbott authorized Department of Public Safety troopers to "stop any vehicle upon reasonable suspicion" that it transports migrants, then either impound the vehicle or reroute it back to its point of origin. Abbott portrayed his most recent order as a way to limit the spread of COVID-19 amid an influx of migrants at the Texas-Mexico border, but the Justice Department argued stopping contractors from moving migrants from crowded processing facilities would actually make the pandemic worse. Cardone agreed, saying Abbott's directive risked "exacerbating the spread of COVID-19."
"Critics have accused Abbott, who is up for a third term in 2022, of trying to deflect blame for Texas' rapidly surging COVID-19 numbers on migrants as he rejects calls to reinstate mask mandates and other pandemic restrictions," The Associated Press reports. "On Tuesday, Texas surpassed 7,000 hospitalized virus patients for the first time since February and reported more than 11,000 new cases." It has been "very clear that the state was advancing an anti-immigrant agenda rather than concerns for border residents," said Fernando García, executive director for the Border Network for Human Rights.
Abbott has been amassing state troopers and National Guard personnel at the border, using emergency declarations and state-funded border fences to arrest migrants on trespassing charges. "Though DPS officers have increasingly been in the region for months, largely targeting human and drug trafficking, troopers have now turned their attention to jailing migrants on low-level state offenses," The Texas Tribune reports. "The number of arrests could swell into the thousands, and local officials are scrambling for resources while immigration rights activists are raising questions about the practice's constitutionality."
Those arrested are charged at makeshift processing facilities in compliant counties and sent to a state prison emptied to house migrants. The initial implementation of Abbott's "rapidly assembled border security operation" has been characterized by "chaos and confusion," the Tribune reports.