HOUSTON (CN) — With the Justice Department already investigating Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s multibillion-dollar border crackdown for civil rights violations, he further provoked the feds Thursday by announcing he has authorized state police to apprehend undocumented immigrants and return them to the border.
Running for a third term this year, the Republican governor has made illegal immigration into Texas his No. 1 issue, blaming the Border Patrol’s blistering pace of arrests of people crossing the southern border without papers this fiscal year – on track to exceed 2 million – on President Joe Biden’s “open-border policies.”
He signed an executive order Thursday authorizing the Texas National Guard and Texas state troopers “to respond to this illegal immigration by apprehending immigrants who cross the border between ports of entry or commit other violations of federal law, and to return those illegal immigrants to the border at a port of entry,” a move critics say encroaches on the federal government’s exclusive power to regulate immigration.
"While President Biden refuses to do his job and enforce the immigration laws enacted by Congress, the State of Texas is once again stepping up and taking unprecedented action to protect Americans and secure our southern border," Abbott said in a statement.
He invoked a section of the U.S. Constitution that states “[t]he United States shall protect each [State in this Union] against Invasion” and said Biden’s failings led him to launch Operation Lone Star in March 2021. (Brackets in original.)
The initiative is funded with $3 billion the Republican-led Texas Legislature recently allocated for border security and has involved Abbott deploying 10,000 Texas National Guard soldiers and Texas state troopers to the Rio Grande, which marks the state’s border with Mexico.
Abbott frequently releases stats touting the operation’s success, which as of July 1 he says has led to around 270,400 apprehensions of undocumented immigrants and more than 16,700 criminal arrests, most of them for trespassing charges, and the seizure of more than 5,600 weapons and over $42.8 million.
But civil rights groups said in complaint filed with the Justice Department in December the state has trampled the civil rights of some of the 2,000-plus men arrested by state law enforcement, mostly on private ranches with the permission of ranch owners, and locked up for weeks in state prisons converted to state-run jails absent any charges against them, or court dates and with no bond set they could pay to secure their release.
The groups, including the ACLU of Texas, complained Texas was depriving these men of due process through use of a separate criminal justice system.
“This separate system is rife with civil rights abuses, including failures to provide basic access to process that lead to people languishing in pretrial detention for weeks on misdemeanor trespass charges,” they said.
The Justice Department is now investigating if Texas state law enforcement and prison agencies assisting with Operation Lone Star are discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin, which is barred by agencies that receive federal funding under Title VI of the Civil Rights of 1964, the Texas Tribune reported, citing documents obtained via open-records requests.
In his executive order issued Thursday, Abbott, a former Texas attorney general and Texas Supreme Court justice, mentions a 2012 order by the U.S. Supreme Court that invalidated part of an Arizona statute making it a misdemeanor for a person to be in the state without documents proving their lawful immigration status.
Attempting to skirt any perceived intrusion on the federal government’s immigration enforcement purview by giving state troopers the OK to apprehend undocumented immigrants and drop them off at the border, Abbott focuses in his executive order on what the Supreme Court did not say in its ruling in the Arizona case.
The “Supreme Court’s opinion in Arizona v. United States specifically does not ‘address whether reasonable suspicion of illegal entry or another immigration crime would be a legitimate basis for prolonging a detention, or whether this too would be preempted by federal law,’” the executive order states.
Immigrant advocates urged Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to direct Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to avoid cooperating with Abbott's ploy to expel undocumented people from the state.
“Governor Abbott’s Executive Order is nothing more than a cynical and callous ploy to circumvent the Supreme Court’s ruling last week in Biden v. Texas, which affirmed the Biden Administration’s authority to dissolve the illegal 'Remain in Mexico' policy,” said Licha Nyiendo, Chief Legal Officer of Human Rights First.
“By scapegoating immigrants and using the state police power to further his nativist political agenda, the governor acts no better than other authoritarians around the world who hold themselves above the rule of law," she added.
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