Abbott fires back after federal judge blocks executive order on migrant vehicles

The office of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott fired back Tuesday after a federal judge blocked his executive order calling for state troopers to stop drivers suspected of carrying illegal immigrants in hopes of containing the spread of the coronavirus.

"The Court's recent order is temporary and based on limited evidence," the statement said. "We look forward to providing the Court with the evidence to support the Governor's Executive Order to protect Texans."

"The Biden Administration has knowingly — and willfully — released COVID-19 positive migrants into Texas communities," the statement continued, "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."

Abbott's order banned the transportation of migrants within Texas by anyone other than law enforcement, according to reports.

U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone in El Paso granted a request by the Justice Department for a temporary restraining order against Abbott’s move. The decision was seen as an initial victory for the Biden administration. 

The Justice Department had sued Abbott and Texas last Friday, saying his order interferes with the federal government’s ability to deal with immigration. It followed U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland's threat of legal action Thursday after the governor's order.

Garland told Abbott to "immediately rescind" the executive order, which he deemed "both dangerous and unlawful."

Cardone's next step is deciding if the move by Texas is constitutional, according to the Texas Tribune. In Cardone's order, she noted the Justice Department was likely to prevail on its claim that the order signed by Abbott violates the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause because it conflicts with federal immigration law and "directly regulates the federal government's operations."

"The Executive 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," the judge stated. 

Abbott's order, issued last Wednesday, had authorized Texas' growing presence of state troopers along the border to "stop any vehicle upon reasonable suspicion" that it transports migrants. Troopers could then reroute vehicles back to their point of origin or impound them. Abbott defended his order as necessary in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in his state, while civil rights groups and immigration advocates expressed concerns that troopers could invite racial profiling.

Fernando García, executive director for the Border Network for Human Rights, argued the state was hypocritical in its defense of the order because Abbott had banned certain COVID-19 prevention measures, including mask mandates in schools, according to the Texas Tribune.

"It was very clear that the state was advancing an anti-immigrant agenda rather than concerns for border residents," García said.

U.S. authorities revealed Monday that they likely picked up 19,000 unaccompanied children in July, exceeding the previous high of 18,877 in March. The June total was 15,253, according to David Shahoulian, assistant secretary for border and immigration policy at the Department of Homeland Security, who singled out the Rio Grande Valley for having the largest numbers.

Last month, Fox News reported that coronavirus cases among migrants in the Rio Grande Valley section of the southern border surged 900%.

Overall, U.S. authorities stopped migrants about 210,000 times at the border in July, up from 188,829 in June and the highest in more than 20 years. The Associated Press reported those numbers were not directly comparable because many cross repeatedly under a pandemic-related ban known as Title 42 -- a Trump administration-era practice – named for a 1944 public health law.

The judge has a scheduled hearing for Aug. 13 on whether to issue a longer-term injunction against Texas. Abbott's office said the hold on the executive order will last until that date.

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Fox News' Bradford Betz, Andrew Mark Miller and The Associated Press contributed to this report

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