US Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday warned Texas Governor Greg Abbott to “immediately rescind” a new executive order aimed at curbing the travel into the state of undocumented immigrants who may pose a risk of transmitting COVID-19.
“The order violates federal law in numerous respects, and Texas cannot lawfully enforce the executive order against any federal official or private parties working with the United States,” Garland told Abbott in a letter.
He added that if Texas continues to implement the ground restrictions on migrants, then the Department of Justice will “pursue all appropriate legal remedies”.
Garland’s letter came just a day after Abbott signed the order, which states that “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 federal immigration officials for crossing the border.
It also directed the state’s Department of Public Safety to “stop any vehicle upon reasonable suspicion of a violation” and gives the department authority to “reroute such a vehicle back to its point of origin or a port of entry”.
The executive order stated that the new policy is warranted because of President Joe Biden’s “refusal to enforce laws passed by the United States Congress” and the measure is aimed at protecting Texans from exposure to COVID-19.
Garland said the order “would jeopardise the health and safety of noncitizens in federal government custody” and it will also interfere with the implementation of federal immigration law.
In July, Texas began arresting migrants on trespassing charges along the US-Mexico border as part of actions Abbott said are needed to slow the number of border crossings.
The arrests put in motion plans that Abbott first announced in June, when he also said that Texas would continue building former President Donald Trump’s border wall and called on other governors to deploy law enforcement and National Guard members to the southern border.
The detainees are being held at what had been an empty state prison in Dilley, Texas. Officials said the converted facility will be able to hold more than 950 people.
Most of those arrested have been single adult men, according to Val Verde County Attorney David Martinez, who said he was advised a week prior that the number of migrant arrests could increase to as many as 100 or 200 a day. Such large numbers, he said, “would overwhelm not only my office, but our entire system pretty quickly.”
Most land along the southern Texas border is private, but Martinez said his understanding was that state troopers would not arrest family units. Earlier in July, US officials reported that they had encountered 55,805 members of families with children in June, which was up 25 percent from the previous month. That figure still remains far below the high of 88,587 in May 2019.