A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked the state of Texas from allowing troopers to stop vehicles suspected of carrying illegal immigrants on the grounds they might be spreading COVID-19.
The order by US District Judge Kathleen Cardone of El Paso handed an initial victory to the Biden administration, which sued Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott last week to halt the implementation of an executive order mandating the stops.
Cardone said in her two-page order that the Justice Department was likely to prevail on its claim that the order signed by Abbott July 28 violates the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause by both conflicting with federal immigration law and regulating federal operations.
The judge also found that the order “causes irreparable injury to the United States and to individuals the United States is charged with protecting, jeopardizing the health and safety of non-citizens in federal custody, risking the safety of federal law enforcement personnel and their families, and exacerbating the spread of COVID-19.”
Cardone scheduled a full hearing on the Biden administration’s application for a preliminary injunction for Aug. 13.
“We look forward to providing the Court with the evidence to support the Governor’s Executive Order to protect Texans,” Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said in a statement. “The Biden Administration has knowingly—and willfully—released COVID-19 positive migrants into Texas communities, risking the potential exposure and infection of Texas residents. The Governor’s Executive Order attempts to prevent the Biden Administration from spreading COVID-19 into Texas and protect the health and safety of Texans.”
Under Abbott’s order, the Texas Department of Public Safety can stop any private vehicle “upon reasonable suspicion” that it is carrying illegal immigrants. If the suspicion is confirmed, troopers could then reroute vehicles back to their point of origin or impound them.
The Justice Department had warned that the Texas order would cause confusion at the border amid record numbers of attempted crossings, as well as prolong the detention of unaccompanied children in “increasingly crowded” facilities. Pro-immigration and civil rights activists had also argued the order invited racial profiling by members of law enforcement.
Meanwhile, officials in Hidalgo County, the largest county in the Rio Grande Valley, declared a local disaster Monday due to high numbers of COVID-19 cases and limited capacity at migrant shelters.
Judge Richard Cortez, the top elected official in Hidalgo County, told the Associated Press Tuesday that typically about 8 percent of migrants tested for COVID-19 were positive. He said that number is now at 16 percent — roughly in line with Texas’ overall positivity rate of 17 percent, according to state health figures.
“It’s not getting better,” Cortez said. “It’s getting worse.”
On Monday, the CDC announced it had renewed the so-called Title 42 policy, which permits the expulsion of certain illegal immigrants due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 — though it exempts some families and unaccompanied children.
On the same day, Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Border and Immigration Policy David Shahoulian said in a court filing for a separate case that more than 19,000 unaccompanied children were picked up by US authorities last month, beating the previous high for the year of 18,877 in March.
Shahoulian added that the number of illegal immigrants encountered in families during July was expected to come in at about 80,000 — shy of the all-time high of 88,857 in May 2019 but up from 55,805 in June — while the overall number of apprehensions at the US-Mexico border in July was approximately 210,000, up from 188,829 in June and the highest in more than 20 years.
With Post wires