Attorney General Merrick Garland has now threatened to sue Texas state authorities over a recent executive order from Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott directing officers with the Texas Department of Public Safety to stop vehicles that they suspect of carrying migrants. Broadly, Abbott’s order targets migrants who supposedly “pose a risk of carrying Covid-19 into Texas communities,” although it’s not as though most Republican leaders are known for taking COVID-19 particularly seriously in other circumstances. In this instance, Abbott and others have found an opportunity to use COVID-19 as a cover for what amounts to racial profiling.
Notably, Abbott’s order could impede the federal government’s own handling of migrants, because federal authorities enter into contracts with private organizations to provide transportation services for migrants. What if Texas officers stop vehicles that turn out to be involved in these government-aligned operations? Curtailing the work of the federal government could have substantive consequences for all those involved. Also, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas) noted how Abbott’s directive could directly lead to racial profiling. As the Congressman put it:
‘I think it’s a violation of many people’s civil rights. I think it’s going to lead to racial profiling… This executive order wasn’t very thoughtful. I don’t think he’s really thinking about the end game of where this is going to take us.’
In a letter to the governor, Garland said that Abbott’s order “would jeopardize the health and safety of noncitizens in federal government custody, federal law enforcement personnel and their families, and our communities,” also adding that “the Order would exacerbate and prolong overcrowding in facilities and shelters and obstruct the federal government’s arrangements with state, local, and nongovernmental partners to ensure that released individuals are transported for appropriate COVID-19 testing to address public health concerns.”
The problems go on, with Garland also noting that “because federal law requires individuals processed for release to appear before immigration courts or report to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices throughout the country, the Order directly interferes with the implementation of federal immigration law.” If migrants can’t freely travel within Texas to their court dates without the threat of getting stopped, there’s a problem.
Abbott’s order could probably put the health of those affected by it in jeopardy by providing for unnecessary, direct interactions between certain law enforcement personnel and members of the community. These interactions could spread COVID-19. Meanwhile, Garland’s team at the Justice Department already undertook legal action against Republican state authorities in Georgia after that state implemented a set of new election restrictions.