A federal judge on Tuesday blocked Texas from enforcing an order from Gov. Greg Abbott that would restrict travel by undocumented immigrants.
U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone of El Paso said the 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."
Abbott issued the order last Wednesday, declaring that only law enforcement officials can provide transportation to immigrants who were detained for crossing the border illegally. He said that their movement around the state risked spreading the coronavirus and that many of the detainees have tested positive for the virus.
Under Abbott's directive, state troopers could order civilian cars or buses to return to their points of origin if they suspected that the drivers were transporting infected immigrants who entered the country illegally
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland wrote Abbott a day after the directive was issued, urging him to rescind the order or risk a federal lawsuit. When Abbott took no action, the Justice Department went to court Friday, arguing that the order "would severely disrupt federal immigration operations" in Texas.
The federal government depends on contractors and nongovernment organizations to move immigrants around the state so they can attend hearings or travel if they are released by Customs and Border Protection, the suit said.
"The massive federal immigration operations in Texas depend heavily on the ability of the federal government and its contractors, grantees, and partners to transport noncitizens," the government said.
It also said the order was invalid because states cannot take action to pre-empt enforcement of federal law.
Texas urged the judge to let Abbott's order stand. The lawsuit was premature, the state said, because the order had not yet gone into effect. And it said immigrants could still be transported by police and federal agents, but not in large groups by nongovernment organizations.
The ban on enforcing Abbott's order will remain in effect until Aug. 13, when the judge scheduled another hearing.