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ACLU: Texas migrant transportation order violates federal law

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REUTERS/Mike Theiler

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  • Governor's order ignores federal requirements, migrants' legal status
  • DOJ already won injunction in similar challenge

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(Reuters) - The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Thursday claiming Texas Governor Greg Abbott's executive order restricting the transport of migrants in the state violates federal law, days after the Biden administration won an injunction in a separate challenge.

The ACLU in a complaint in El Paso, Texas federal court said the Republican governor's July order unlawfully bypasses complex procedures established by federal immigration law, which only allows states to assist in enforcement in certain narrow circumstances.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three nonprofit advocacy groups and a retired public interest lawyer, Jennifer Harbury, who hosts migrants in her home and provides them with transportation.

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The ACLU says the order directs state officers to make their own determinations about passengers' immigration status wholly independent of the federal government and to impose harsh penalties based on those decisions.

"The executive order is already having a profound chilling effect on people’s movement in border communities and throughout the state," ACLU lawyers wrote in the complaint. "It opens the door to profiling, standardless detention, questioning, vehicle seizure, rerouting, and heavy fines."

Abbott's office and the Texas Attorney General's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The complaint comes two days after U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone in El Paso temporarily blocked Abbott's July order in a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Cardone said DOJ is likely to succeed on claims that the order would interfere with the federal government's ability to transport migrants between detention facilities. The government regularly employs contractors and other non-law enforcement personnel to transfer migrants.

Abbott, in issuing the order, said it was aimed at preventing migrants from potentially spreading COVID-19. The order permits only "law enforcement officials" to provide ground transport for migrants detained for illegally crossing the southern border.

The order also gives the state's public safety department the authority to stop any vehicle suspected of carrying migrants and send it back to its point of origin.

The ACLU in Thursday's complaint said that among other flaws, Abbott's order bars anyone from transporting the very people whom the federal government has intentionally released pending immigration proceedings, such as asylum applicants.

It also interferes with the ability of permanent residents who have obtained asylum and people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to travel throughout the state, according to the complaint.

"These people have a federal statutory right to seek asylum and explicit federal permission to live in the United States," the ACLU said. "Texas cannot veto those federal decisions."

The ACLU says Abbott's order is preempted by federal law and violates the ban on unreasonable searches and seizures in the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The group said it will seek a preliminary injunction blocking the order pending the outcome of the case.

The case is Annunciation House v. Abbott, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, No. 3:21-cv-178.

For the plaintiffs: Adriana Pinon of the ACLU Foundation of Texas

For Texas: Not available

Read more:

Judge blocks Texas governor's order preventing transport of migrants

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.

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