The Joe Biden administration sued Texas on Friday to prevent state troopers from stopping vehicles with migrants on the grounds that they could spread COVID-19 , warning that the practice could exacerbate problems amid the high number of crossings on the border with Mexico.
The federal Department of Justice requested the immediate blocking of an order that Governor Greg Abbott issued on Wednesday that allows the Texas Department of Public Safety to “stop any vehicle on reasonable suspicion” that it is transporting migrants. According to the measure, the police officers can send the vehicles back to their point of origin or take them to a depot.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in El Paso, reflects a letter that Attorney General Merrick Garland sent to the governor a day earlier, in which he claims the state was usurping and even interfering with the federal government’s responsibility for enforce immigration laws.
Republican Abbott, who will seek reelection next year, wrote to Garland on Friday, pointing out that the federal government was interfering with its obligations to protect Texans.
“It is clear from the arguments in your letter that the state of Texas and the federal government are facing a constitutional crisis,” Abbott wrote.
The lawsuit fuels tensions between the Biden and Abbott administrations over the governor’s actions at the border, which have included jailing migrants for state crimes and building new barriers.
For months, the governor has copied former President Donald Trump’s stern stance on the immigration issue. Civil rights groups and immigration advocates have said Abbott’s decision to have state troopers stop vehicles could lead to racial profiling and restrict the shelters’ ability to accommodate newly arrived families.
Statements accompanying the lawsuit offered new evidence that large numbers of migrants are arriving at the Mexican border, and senior officials have said the governor’s order could significantly obstruct transportation and other federal operations.
The Rio Grande Valley sector of the Border Patrol, the main corridor for people crossing illegally into the United States, had more than 8,300 migrants detained Wednesday, with an average processing time of 57 hours, said Brian Hastings, chief of the sector. The sector has released more than 100,000 migrants since October 1, including 9,000 last week.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, 646 children traveling alone were in custody Thursday after they crossed the Mexican border, compared to a daily average of 480 in the past 30 days.