NEW YORK — A state judge has halted an order by Texas Governor Greg Abbott barring non-government vehicles from transporting migrants. This paves the way for Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and other organizations to continue their work.
U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone found in her Aug. 26 ruling that Abbott’s order allowing the Texas Department of Public Safety to act on immigration violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prevents state laws from interfering with immigration enforcement by the federal government.
Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, the diocese to which Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley belongs, said he’s grateful.
“Our mission has always been to serve the most desperate who are standing right in front of us,” Bishop Flores said in a statement. “We are grateful that we can continue serving migrants — most of whom are young women and children in desperate need of the basic necessities.”
Becket, a religious liberty law firm, filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley on Aug. 12, arguing that Abbott’s order would have a “negative effect” on the organization’s ability to carry out its religious mission, specifically its ability to provide care to migrants.
Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in an Aug. 27 statement that the “governor should never have stood between the Church and suffering souls” and that he is glad that the court’s ruling allows Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley to continue “providing food, water, and shelter in Jesus’ name.”
Abbott signed the executive order at the end of July, ostensibly as an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. It came at a time when local officials in Laredo and Hidalgo County suggested migrants released from U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody were spreading COVID-19 in their communities, although experts say there is no concrete evidence to suggest that’s the case.
The executive order mandated that only federal, state, and local law enforcement officials are permitted to provide ground transportation to migrants that are detained by CBP at the border. It also directed government officials to stop and reroute any vehicle “back to its point of origin” if the violation is confirmed. If the driver didn’t comply, law enforcement officials were authorized to impound their vehicles.
Abbott hasn’t commented, and his office declined The Tablet’s request to speak about Cardone’s ruling.
The executive order is part of a hardline immigration approach that has put Abbott at odds with the federal government under President Joe Biden. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland called it “both dangerous and unlawful” after it was signed. The U.S. Justice Department has also sued Texas and Abbott over the order.
The Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley’s Humanitarian Respite Center is often the first place CBP brings migrant families that cross the border. It typically sees between 800-900 people a day, sometimes spiking to over 1,100, Sister Norma Pimentel, the organization’s executive director, previously told The Tablet.
Sister Norma said that Abbott’s order would have the opposite effect he intended because they’re the ones that test migrants and bring them to designated quarantine locations if they test positive.
“It’s definitely going to have very serious consequences and keep us from helping the community stay safe because we’re not able to help these families [that test positive for COVID-19] isolate and quarantine,” Sister Norma said.
Bishop Flores previously told The Tablet that the order was “counterproductive” because without the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley protocols in place COVID-19 positive migrants wouldn’t have designated places to quarantine and would risk infecting others.
Cardone’s ruling granted a preliminary injunction on the order, therefore it is only temporary protection. She ruled that it will remain in place while the case continues through the courts.