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UPDATE (July 29, 4:55 p.m. EDT):The Department of Justice on Thursday sent a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, urging him to “immediately rescind” his executive order restricting the transportation of migrants.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the order is both “dangerous and unlawful,” violating federal law “in numerous respects.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued an executive order on Wednesday restricting the ground transportation of migrants in his state. The order ― which immigration rights advocates have decried as “flagrantly illegal,” unconstitutional and xenophobic ― prohibits nongovernment individuals and organizations from transporting migrants who have been released from federal custody. It also gives authority to the Texas Department of Public Safety to stop and seize any private vehicle suspected of carrying migrants.
Abbott cited the threat of COVID-19 as the reason for the new order, saying migrants “pose a risk of carrying COVID into Texas.” Immigration attorneys, however, say that, although coronavirus transmission does appear to be increasing among migrant populations ― just as it is across the country ― migrants currently make up only a fraction of new cases in Texas, and a majority of them are voluntarily getting vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Earlier this week, the health authority of Laredo, a city on the Mexico border, said unvaccinated people ― and not migrants ― were the main cause of a recent COVID-19 surge there.
Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, an attorney at the American Immigration Council, said Abbott cited outright falsehoods in the executive order.
“Governor Abbott enshrines unscientific xenophobia into executive order, pushing the false narrative that migrants are spreading COVID, and appears to ban private citizens or contractors from transporting migrants, which is *flagrantly* illegal and unconstitutional,“ Reichlin-Melnick wrote on Twitter.
Reichlin-Melnick pointed out that Abbott had, just on Tuesday, reiterated he would not reinstitute a mask mandate in Texas despite updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that most people in the U.S., including the fully vaccinated, should wear masks indoors.
“Yesterday, [Abbott] declared that the ‘time for government mask mandates is over,’” Reichlin-Melnick said, citing a statement by the governor. “Today he ordered the government to stop Texans volunteering at humanitarian shelters and seize their cars if they’re transporting migrants. It’s not about COVID.”
Abbott’s order says that “no person, other than a federal, state, or local law-enforcement official, shall provide ground transportation” to migrants who have been released from federal custody. It also directs the Texas DPS to stop and impound vehicles that officers have a “reasonable suspicion” are carrying migrants.
Migrants who are awaiting asylum rulings sometimes travel to be with family and friends, but it appears that Abbott’s order would make it illegal for private people or groups ― such as charity organizations, bus companies or even taxis and ride-share drivers ― to give rides to migrants in any capacity.
“Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest efforts to make Texas an anti-immigrant police state are yet another unconstitutional assault on civil rights targeting border communities,” Kate Huddleston, attorney at the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “The governor’s order will lead to racial profiling and over-policing — with state troopers pulling over cars and buses without lawful justification, profiling passengers, and questioning people about their immigration status.”
“The fiat continues a long, racist history of placing blame for the spread of disease onto immigrants and communities at the border,” Huddleston added. “There is no reason for the governor to halt travel in the state of Texas other than to terrorize these communities and distract from his own leadership failures.”
Other immigration rights activists have expressed fury at the governor’s order, with some predicting legal action against Abbott to prevent its enforcement.
The executive order is Abbott’s latest effort to control migrant movements in Texas.
On Tuesday, the governor ordered the National Guard to help law enforcement arrest migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, saying in a letter to Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris of the Texas Military Department that “more manpower is needed” to “respond to this disaster and secure the rule of law at our Southern border.”
Last month, Abbott vowed to continue former President Donald Trump’s efforts to build a border wall between his state and Mexico. The governor said he aimed to construct “hundreds of miles” of wall.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.