EL PASO, Texas — The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the ACLU are suing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over his executive order that bars the transportation of certain migrants in the state.
The filing follows Tuesday’s ruling in a separate challenge brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, in which the judge paused the enforcement of the executive order for 10 days. The ACLU lawsuit differs from the DOJ case because the plaintiffs present the range of harms caused by the executive order to border communities, asylum seekers, their families, shelters, and drivers throughout Texas.
The ACLU filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of Annunciation House, one of the largest shelter providers on the U.S.-Mexico border, based in El Paso, Texas; Angry Tías & Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley, a volunteer organization that aids migrants; Jennifer Harbury, a humanitarian volunteer who frequently drives migrants; and FIEL Houston, an immigrants’ rights organization with members who include recently arrived migrants subject to restrictions on travel due to the executive order.
“Governor Abbott’s executive order is blatantly unconstitutional and threatens to turn Texas into a ‘show me your papers’ state,” said Kate Huddleston, an attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “The order creates the perfect storm for racial profiling by allowing state troopers to view any group of people as ‘certain immigrants’ violating the order. It will lead to unlawful detention, vehicle seizure, and the forced ‘rerouting’ of vehicles to the Texas-Mexico border. This is yet another assault on Texans’ civil rights by the governor and an effort to scapegoat immigrants in the state.”
The order, signed last week, mandates that state law enforcement officers pull over drivers they suspect of transporting migrants, including migrants whom the Department of Homeland Security has allowed to enter and reside in the United States. It gives state officials unilateral authority to make guesses about complex immigration status questions, and if the order goes into effect, it will lead to arbitrary detention, questioning, racial profiling, property seizure, and heavy fines.
The order keeps migrants in Texas from engaging in all kinds of essential activities. It upends the system of onward travel for asylum seekers arriving at the border: once released from federal custody, migrants travel to shelters, to medical care, and to bus stations and airports for onward travel in groups. Under this order, shelters can no longer pick up asylum seekers or take them to get food, attend court hearings, or see doctors. The vast majority of migrants leave the border by bus, and are unable to join family members in other parts of Texas and other states. And Texans now face a harsh regime of arbitrary arrests by state officers, who are empowered to stop and question a driver they suspect of transporting asylum seekers, and to seize their vehicles or force them to drive to the border.
“We are challenging this executive order because it is illegal and inhumane,” said Spencer Amdur, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The governor of Texas cannot veto federal decisions about who can live in this country. And state police cannot be stopping drivers and impounding cars they suspect of carrying asylum seekers. This is an unprecedented attack on the federal immigration system and it must be struck down.”
As the lawsuit explains, the order unlawfully interferes with the federal government’s handling of immigration policy and foreign affairs. State and local law enforcement officers are not authorized to detain or arrest people based on their own suspicion of their immigration status, including individuals who are undocumented.
The lawsuit challenges the executive order as violating the Supremacy Clause, federal immigration law, and the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
The following are comments from the plaintiffs in this case:
Ruben Garcia, Director, Annunciation House: “Our shelters are places of temporary hospitality for asylum seekers who are traveling on to their ultimate destination, frequently after long and difficult journeys to reach El Paso. If we cannot help people reach their onward destinations, we will have to close our doors. Simply put, Governor Abbott’s executive order prevents us from doing what we do — serving migrants and refugees in our vibrant community.”
Angry Tías & Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley: “Our beloved fellow Tía Susan Law recently passed away. It is fitting that we file this lawsuit today to fulfill our mission of dignity and justice for asylum seekers. In doing so, we honor Susan’s life and courageous work as part of the Tías.”
Jennifer Harbury: “I recently assisted a woman and her little boy who were kidnapped three times in Reynosa, Mexico. She was gang raped in front of her child. I loved driving them to the movies, to ride a tricycle in the park — the normal things after so much trauma. If the governor thinks he’s going to scare me off from doing that, I’d say to him, ‘Just go home, Mr. Abbott, just go home.’”
Cesar Espinoza, Executive Director, FIEL Houston: “We are proud to once again join with the ACLU to oppose bad policy which at the end of the day hurts our community as a whole. If Governor Abbott continues to erode community trust through these bad policies, we fear that our members will be afraid to come forward as witnesses and victims of crimes. We must do better to protect our community and we must not continue to put the blame on the immigrant community for everything — including the growing pandemic in the state of Texas, which has worsened in large part due to the governor’s irresponsibility.”
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in El Paso, Texas.