HOUSTON — Governor Greg Abbott on Thursday ordered the Texas National Guard and state police to arrest migrants illegally crossing the border from Mexico and return them to ports of entry, a move that could put the state in direct conflict with the state. federal government. government on immigration.
Abbott said in a statement that the goal was to “return illegal immigrants to the border to prevent this criminal enterprise from endangering our communities.”
The order, which significantly expanded the potential activity of security forces and state police along the border, came under mounting pressure from conservatives and Republicans on Abbott to take even more drastic action to deal with the record number of arrivals from Mexico. Federal agents recorded 240,000 crossings in May, most of them in Texas, though daily numbers have fallen slightly recently, one official said, citing internal data.
This week, Texas officials from counties on or near the border called on the governor to act, and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick urged Mr. Abbott to have state law enforcement personnel.”handing people over and returning them”, comparing the number of migrants arriving in Mexico to the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II.
Republicans outside of Texas have also pressured Abbott. “Texas should just send them back across the border,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said at a news conference last month.
Immigration has traditionally been the purview of the federal government, and states have refrained from enforcing federal immigration laws on their own, especially after a Supreme Court ruling a decade ago overturned an attempt by Arizona to do so.
Mr Abbott has so far failed to do what many of his conservative critics have asked for: a formal declaration of an “invasion” that proponents say would allow the governor to seize war powers and prevent state law enforcement officers from just migrants. record them back to the border, but evict them immediately.
The initial criticism of his order came not from immigration lawyers or civil rights groups, but from Ken Cuccinelli, a former top Department of Homeland Security official under the Trump administration, who suggested the governor’s order didn’t go far enough. mr. Cuccinelli has actively called on Mr Abbott to make the declaration of invasion.
“The governor does not appear to be formally declaring an invasion or ordering the National Guard and the Department of Public Security to remove illegal immigrants across the border directly into Mexico,” the statement read. a joint statement by Mr Cuccinelli and Russ Vought, the president of the Center for Renewing America, a conservative nonprofit. “That’s crucial. Otherwise, this is still catch and release.”
Raices, a Texas nonprofit that provides legal services to migrants, said in a statement that the order was a “disgusting political stunt” and “unlawful” and called on the Department of Justice to “immediately intervene.”
While Mr Abbott has previously sent thousands of National Guard members to the border, the troops have largely acted as lookouts and have called federal border patrol officers when they see unauthorized migrants arriving.
In his injunction on Thursday, Mr. Abbott appeared poised to test the limits of immigration enforcement law, stating that in a 2012 case, the Supreme Court had not specifically examined whether a state could detain someone on suspicion of immigration offenses or whether federal law would prohibit that.
“This is setting up a test case,” said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. The Supreme Court rejected a similar attempt by Arizona in 2012 to prioritize immigration enforcement, he said.
“But this is a different Supreme Court,” he added. “If you’re Texas, you might be thinking, ‘This is a good opportunity to see if there’s still a majority for that precedent.'”
The governor’s order took effect immediately, but officials said the practical details of how it would be implemented are still being worked out.
It seemed likely to complicate relations between state law enforcement and federal agents, who routinely work together along the border.
The office of Mr. Abbott directed questions to the National Guard and the Department of Public Security, neither of whom responded to a request for comment. The Department of Homeland Security and Border Patrol also did not immediately comment on the order.
A White House spokesman questioned the governor’s order by criticizing his immigration record. “His so-called Operation Lone Star put National Guard and law enforcement officers in dangerous situations and resulted in a logistical nightmare that needed federal rescue,” said spokesman Abdullah Hasan.
Several questions remain about how the order would be executed on the ground. For example, it was unclear how far from the border migrants would be apprehended, how they would be identified and what would happen to them once they were deposited at the entry gates, which are located at a series of bridges between Mexico and Texas. †
It was also unclear how the order would align with Mr. Abbott to tackle the arrival of migrants to Texas, one of which is calling for law enforcement to charge those found on private farms with trespassing. It was not expected to affect a state program in which migrants already processed by the border patrol have offered rides to Washington or elsewhere on state-chartered buses.
Kate Huddleston, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas, said the order would encourage state law enforcement to “racially profile black and brown people” and that it “recklessly fuels the flames of hatred in our state.”
Mr Abbott has said his administration is considering taking the next step by invoking war powers to deport unauthorized migrants, but there are legal concerns. Among them, he said, was the possibility that this could expose law enforcement in the state of Texas to federal prosecution.
But anger has grown among conservatives, especially those in communities near the border.
On Tuesday, several provincial leaders held a press conference and declared among themselves that the wave of migrants was an invasion.
“We’re here to change that,” said one of the district leaders, Tully Shahan, the chief executive for Kinney County. “We don’t want to lose America. The Biden administration can stop this this hour. They can stop it now.”
Mike Bennett, the chief executive in Goliad County, addressed Mr Abbott directly, saying, “I ask the governor to act today and deal with these people at the border.”
Mr Abbott’s plan resembled a tactic recently used by Kinney County Sheriff Brad Coe, who said he drove several migrants from his county to a bridge in the border town of Eagle Pass and left them there.
“We returned four of them to the port of entry in Mexico so they could go home,” said Mr. Coe during Tuesday’s press conference. “There was no deportation. We picked them up, put them in the truck and took them home.”
James Dobbins† Zolan Kanno Youngs and Eileen Sullivan reporting contributed.