A federal judge Friday extended for two weeks a temporary injunction allowing a south Texas Catholic Charities unit to transport undocumented migrants to a care center. An executive order from Republican Gov. Greg Abbott last month ordered a ban on private transport of the migrants.
Federal Judge Kathleen Cardone of the Western District of Texas, appointed to the bench in 2003 by President George W. Bush, offered no explanation for extending the injunction through Aug. 27, court papers revealed.
Mr. Abbott‘s July 28 order prohibited “group vehicle transportation” of the migrants, something the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and its Humanitarian Respite Center have provided since 2014. Violators could see their cars impounded, the order said.
Mr. Abbott cited in part the risk that illegal crossers could exacerbate the danger to the state of the COVID-19 vaccine as a justification for the ban.
“The dramatic rise in unlawful border crossings has also led to a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases among unlawful migrants who have made their way into our state, and we must do more to protect Texans from this virus and reduce the burden on our communities,” Mr. Abbott said in a statement announcing the move.
According to Becket, the public-interest law firm that filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, the group tests migrants who arrive at the center for the coronavirus and quarantines those who test positive at contracted hotels in the area. Blocking the transportation option, officials said, would likely increase the spread of COVID as migrants are released without testing or quarantine.
At the same time as the hearing in El Paso was set to begin, the federal Department of Homeland Security released record illegal border-crossing numbers for July, reports indicate, with close to 60,000 people released into the U.S.
“We want to stop the spread of COVID-19 as much as the state does,” said Rev. Daniel E. Flores, the Roman Catholic bishop of Brownsville, Texas, where the respite center operates. “But for that to happen, we need the government to let us do what Christ called us to do: minister to the strangers among us in their time of distress.”
Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of the Catholic Charities unit, told the court enforcing Mr. Abbott‘s order “will prevent our ministry from doing its work, in cooperation with the federal government’s immigration enforcement authorities, of properly attending to the health and safety of migrants, particularly mothers and very young children, as well as protecting the health of our broader community.”