A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against Texas on Tuesday, blocking Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest get-tough border policy aimed at preventing illegal immigrants from dispersing throughout his state.
Judge Kathleen Cardone, a Bush appointee to the bench, said Texas was interfering with the way the federal government wanted to carry out its immigration policy.
The two-page ruling is a victory for President Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, giving them a continued free hand in catching and releasing tens of thousands of illegal immigrants each month.
Mr. Abbott had said he feared the migrants were spurring a COVID surge, and he flexed state powers to order troopers to block any non-law enforcement vehicle believed to be carrying migrants away from the border area.
That would have still allowed Border Patrol and ICE employees to shuttle migrants around, but would have hamstrung the network of contractors and nongovernmental organizations on which Homeland Security is relying to get migrants deeper into the U.S., spreading the COVID risk — and the burden to communities — around further.
Judge Cardone’s order lasts 10 days, giving both sides a chance to develop their arguments.
But she said from what she saw right now, the federal government was likely to prevail because its laws trump local decision-making, particularly on immigration policy.
Texas had argued it was premature to halt the policy because it hasn’t yet taken effect. The state’s top cop had told the court he would need at least another week to write the regulations for how troopers would comply with the order.
Judge Cardone rejected that argument.
Texas has received the brunt of this year’s unprecedented border surge, which law enforcement officials and the immigrants themselves blame on the more relaxed policies Mr. Biden implemented.
Mr. Abbott complained Tuesday that the president was preparing “draconian” restrictions on Americans over the coronavirus, but is “allowing illegal migrants with COVID to freely enter America.”
Earlier in the day Homeland Security had told the judge that it was “generally” testing migrants.
The affidavit from David Shahoulian, assistant secretary for border policy, came after Texas told the judge of an incident in La Joya, where police found a migrant family at a local fast-food restaurant who admitted they had COVID but were released into the community.
The family was staying at a local hotel run under the auspices of Catholic Charities, and police who responded to the hotel found several dozen people from the hotel “out and about” and “the majority without face masks.” Police issued a public health alert based on the situation.
Mr. Shahoulian, in his sworn affidavit, tried to minimize coronavirus risks from illegal immigrants, saying Homeland Security generally has the situation in hand.
“Those released directly from CBP facilities are generally provided testing either prior to or immediately after release from CBP custody,” he said.
Those who do test positive after release are connected with nongovernmental organizations, such as Catholic Charities, which are supposed to put them up in spaces that allow for quarantining.
One exception is the Del Rio sector of Texas, where the federal government has its own contract to test and quarantine, but Mr. Shahoulian said that’s not possible border-wide “due to infrastructure and resource limitations.”
He didn’t say what those limits were.