The Justice Department sued Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas on Friday in an effort to block an executive order that severely limits the transportation of migrants in the state, calling the order unconstitutional.
The lawsuit was filed a day after Attorney General Merrick B. Garland sent a letter to Mr. Abbott telling him that he must rescind the executive order, which bars private transportation suppliers from providing ground transit to many migrants and makes it harder for them to reach their final destinations in the United States.
The executive order “causes injury to the United States and to individuals whom the United States is charged to protect, jeopardizing the health and safety of noncitizens in federal custody, risking the safety of federal law enforcement personnel and their families, and exacerbating the spread of Covid-19 in our communities,” the Justice Department said in its lawsuit.
The department said that the order obstructed the federal government’s ability to administer immigration law and asked the court to “declare the executive order to be invalid and enjoin its enforcement.”
When Mr. Abbott announced the order on Wednesday, he cited the coronavirus as a risk he hoped to stem by prohibiting anyone but law enforcement officials from providing ground transportation to migrants who had been detained on suspicion of illegal entry, or who would be subject to expulsion under Title 42, a Trump-era policy that allows border officials to expel migrants based on Covid-19 concerns.
Mr. Abbott said in a statement that he had “no intention” of abdicating “the authority under long-established emergency response laws to control the movement of people to better contain the spread of a disaster, such as those known to have Covid-19.”
He accused the Biden administration of creating a constitutional crisis between the federal government and his state because his communities “are overrun and overwhelmed by the record-high influx of migrants,” as well as criminals who profit from the border crisis.
The United States often works with private companies, federal personnel and nonprofits to transport migrants in federal custody to other destinations.
The Justice Department said in its lawsuit that there were “a variety of circumstances in which noncitizens must be transported between locations,” including moving unaccompanied children between Department of Homeland Security facilities, Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities and sponsors, who are often family members.
Noncitizens released by Customs and Border Protection also need transportation, the lawsuit said, “frequently through privately arranged travel by bus or rail, to destinations within Texas and elsewhere” so they can reach their final destinations in the United States.
In his letter to Mr. Abbott, Mr. Garland said that Texas’ order would hinder the release of migrants from detention, exacerbate overcrowding in shelters and other facilities, make it hard for people to appear at their immigration hearings and obstruct the federal government’s work to transport people to Covid-19 test sites.
Mr. Garland called the order “dangerous and unlawful” and said that federal officials would not change their transportation practices.
Mr. Abbott’s order also says that the Texas Department of Public Safety can stop and impound any vehicle under “reasonable suspicion” of violating the directive, a broadly worded directive that immigration advocates said could create a new avenue for racial profiling.
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