Governor's executive order restricting service to migrants would make COVID worse, advocates say.
A religious organization in Texas is asking a court to allow it to continue providing illegal immigrants with ground transportation, in spite of Gov. Greg Abbott prohibiting such action.
Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley filed a friend of the court brief in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, El Paso Division, Thursday.
Abbott restricts ground transportation
Gov. Abbott issued an Executive Order July 28 restricting ground transportation of migrants who pose a risk of carrying COVID-19 into Texas communities. The Executive Order also directed the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to stop any vehicle upon reasonable suspicion of such violation and reroute such vehicles back to its point of origin or a port of entry. DPS also has the authority to impound a vehicle that violates the Executive Order.
“The dramatic rise in unlawful border crossings has also led to a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases among unlawful migrants who have made their way into our state, and we must do more to protect Texans from this virus and reduce the burden on our communities,” Abbott said. “This Executive Order will reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure in our communities.”
Charities at front lines
But Catholic Charities says the order will have the opposite effect.
“It means that young families, pregnant mothers, and single women crossing the border may lose access to food, clothing, a place to rest, and a free COVID test,” said Becket, the religious liberty law firm representing Catholic Charities. “Local Texas communities may also lose a critical partner in preventing the spread of COVID in their community.”
“Caring for the stranger in need has always been at the core of the Catholic faith,” said Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket. “This order solves nothing and wrongfully endangers Catholic Charities’ religious mission to care for migrants.”
COVID-19 testing helps protect communities
Catholic Charities tests all migrants who arrive at the respite center for COVID-19; those who test negative are served onsite, while those who test positive are transported to one of several hotels contracted by Catholic Charities or the City of McAllen to serve as a place to quarantine. If the respite center could no longer engage in its ministry, migrants would be dropped by federal border patrol agents at bus stations in the local community without receiving a COVID test, increasing the likelihood of community spread.
“We want to stop the spread of COVID-19 as much as the state does,” said Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas. “But for that to happen, we need the government to let us do what Christ called us to do: minister to the strangers among us in their time of distress.”
A hearing on the case was held Friday morning in El Paso federal district court.