The federal Justice Department filed a lawsuit Friday to block Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest attempt to fill gaps in border security with a policy that allows state troopers to stop and turn back vehicles carrying illegal immigrants away from the boundary region.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said the policy tramples on the federal government’s right to catch and release illegal immigrants, and he asserted it is unenforceable against federal agencies and contractors anyway.
The Justice Department is seeking a temporary restraining order to gain an immediate halt of the policy, which Mr. Abbott said is designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 by illegal immigrants as they disperse into the U.S.
The Republican governor lashed out at the lawsuit on Friday, saying the Biden administration has “created a constitutional crisis.”
He said the Biden administration has failed in its duty to deter illegal immigration, and “knowingly imports” the coronavirus into Texas, so the state felt it had to step in with its own actions.
“Until President Biden and his administration do their jobs to enforce the laws of our nation and protect Americans, the state of Texas will continue to step up to protect our communities and uphold the rule of law,” the governor said.
Border Patrol officials acknowledged the chaos on the border in affidavits the Justice Department filed with its lawsuit. Those officials said Mr. Abbott’s order will make it tougher to send migrants away from the border, forcing overcrowding in the limited facilities that exist.
Brain S. Hastings, the Border Patrol’s chief patrol agent in the Rio Grande Valley region, said agents in his sector alone caught and released 9,000 illegal immigrants last week, and have released 100,700 migrants this fiscal year.
Russell Hott, assistant director of custody management at ICE, said in another filing that the deportation agency would have to deploy more people to the border if contractors can’t be used to shuttle illegal immigrants. He said that would mean fewer interior arrests.
Yet Homeland Security itself has already taken ICE officers off their interior duties and sent them to the border, and new Biden administration rules have deeply cut into the number of arrests ICE is making in the interior anyway.
He also said ICE needs to be able to transfer illegal immigrant children to the Health and Human Services Department.
Mr. Hott said so far this fiscal year ICE has transported nearly 65,000 illegal immigrants within Texas.
Mr. Abbott said he wants the Biden administration to solve the chaos, not manage the flow.
His order doesn’t apply to federal law enforcement officers, so Border Patrol agents and ICE officers could still shuttle migrants. But contractors could be stopped if they are believed to be driving migrants deeper into the state beyond the border area.