Legal questions shroud Gov. Greg Abbott’s move to bus migrants back to the border

By James Barragán and Uriel J. García, The Texas Tribune

EAGLE PASS — On a cloudy recent Friday morning, the Moncada Baseball Park near the U.S.-Mexico border was empty, save for one young man practicing dribbling drills in the park’s soccer fields.

Across the street, at a busy commercial vehicle inspection site with 18-wheelers rolling through after crossing the border from Mexico, the Texas Department of Public Safety — under questionable legal authority — dropped off a group of migrants whom officers identified as having illegally crossed into the country.

The migrants, about a dozen men and women, stepped out of a white Texas Department of Criminal Justice bus and were directed toward a truck port where they sat and waited under shade near an outdoor fan for nearly three hours. Then, a federal agent in a white Border Patrol van picked them up and drove them away. A few hours later, the process was repeated with a new group of migrants.

The procedure was part of a new step in Operation Lone Star, Gov. Greg Abbott’s push to slow the number of migrants crossing the Texas border, testing the limits of the state’s ability to enforce immigration laws that are traditionally seen as a federal responsibility.

State and local law enforcement have long transferred custody of undocumented migrants to federal immigration authorities after they’ve been arrested. But previously it’s been the federal government’s job to pick them up. Abbott’s decision to arrest migrants and actively bring them back to the border, essentially forcing such a handoff, represents a broadening of the state’s role in the immigration enforcement process. But experts disagree on how significant it is or whether it’s intruding on a federal responsibility and stretching the legal limits of the state’s efforts on the border.

[Texas troopers are causing car chase fatalities and racially profiling drivers under Abbott’s border crackdown, complaint claims]

“There are ongoing questions about what authority they have to bus people from one location to another,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council. “Legally speaking, is that immigration enforcement? I still don’t know.”

Getting answers has been difficult. Although the program has been operating since July 9, state and federal officials have ducked questions about how it works, refusing to say where the migrants are being transported to and from, what they are being arrested for and what happens to them after they are turned over to federal immigration authorities. The only way The Texas Tribune was able to confirm that federal authorities are accepting custody of the migrants was by staking out the Eagle Pass port of entry and witnessing the exchange in person.

Abbott announced his plans in early July to authorize DPS troopers and National Guard service members stationed at the border to arrest migrants caught crossing the border illegally and return them to the ports of entry. They immediately raised alarms for immigrant rights advocates who said Abbott’s plan was veering into the federal government’s purview over immigration enforcement and could lead to violations of the migrants’ civil rights because it was unclear what authority state officials were using to hold them under custody.

A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees Border Patrol, didn’t answer questions about how Abbott’s latest order affects agents’ work on the ground. Instead, the spokesperson referred to comments made by Chris Magnus, Customs and Border Protection commissioner, earlier this month during a news conference in Washington in which he responded to a question about Abbott’s order.

“Our goal is always to work cooperatively when we can within the law, and based on what’s appropriate under different circumstances with our state and local partners,” he said.

Texas Military Department officials provided at least one answer about how the program works at a legislative hearing earlier this month. Brig. Gen. Win Burkett of the 36th Infantry Division told lawmakers in July that National Guard service members play no role in the transportation of migrants to the border.

With limited information, immigration and border security experts disagree about how radically Abbott’s order has changed state law enforcement’s involvement in immigration enforcement.

Victor M. Manjarrez Jr., who worked for the U.S. Border Patrol for 22 years and retired as the Tucson Sector chief in 2011, said Abbott’s latest order is nothing out of the ordinary. He said local or state officers referring migrants to Border Patrol is a common practice along the Texas-Mexico border.

A bus from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice leaves an area near the International Bridge in Eagle Pass on Thursday, July 28, 2022. People who were apprehended by state troopers after crossing the border were brought to this area where they were handed over to Border Patrol custody.

A bus from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice leaves an area near the International Bridge in Eagle Pass on Thursday, July 28, 2022. People who were apprehended by state troopers after crossing the border were brought to this area where they were handed over to Border Patrol custody. Credit: Sergio Flores for The Texas Tribune

Members of the Texas National guard sit in the shade with people who were apprehended by state troopers after crossing the border were brought to the International Bridge in Eagle Pass on Thursday, May 28, 2022. Those who were caught were handed over to Border Patrol custody.

Members of the Texas National guard sit in the shade with people who were apprehended by state troopers after crossing the border were brought to the International Bridge in Eagle Pass on Thursday, May 28, 2022. Those who were caught were handed over to Border Patrol custody. Credit: Sergio Flores for The Texas Tribune

First: A bus from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice leaves an area near the International Bridge in Eagle Pass. Last: Members of the Texas National guard sit in the shade with people who were apprehended by state troopers. Credit: Sergio Flores for The Texas Tribune

“Honestly, there’s nothing that special,” said Manjarrez, who is now the associate director of the Center for Law and Human Behavior at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Usually, he said, when law enforcement officers along the border come across migrants on foot or in a vehicle, they stop them on state charges. If the officers suspect the migrants crossed the border illegally, the officers hold the migrants until Border Patrol agents pick them up. But Abbott’s order goes a step further by having state officers drive the migrants to a location where it is easier for Border Patrol to process them.

“Instead of having troopers stuck on a highway, we’re going to take individuals to you,” Manjarrez said.

To an extent, he added, local law enforcement officers along the U.S.-Mexico border have always enforced immigration laws.

“If you call Border Patrol to show up, to some degree you’re enforcing immigration law. If you’re taking them to a port of entry, you’re enforcing some type of immigration law,” he said. “In either case you’re doing it.”

Manjarrez said that during his time in Arizona, it was common for local law enforcement officers to take migrants to Border Patrol instead of waiting for immigraiton agents to arrive at the scene.

“My argument would be, how is this different than what’s been done in the past?” he said. “The big difference with this is that there was an executive order that came out, and it was intended to make a big splash.”

But Denise Gilman, co-director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, said the transportation of the migrants to immigration authorities marks a drastic shift into a new level of immigration enforcement by the state. By taking the migrants back to the border for processing, she said, state officials are facilitating that enforcement.

“The fact that they straight up don’t take them across the border doesn’t take away the immigration enforcement nature of it,” Gilman said.

But in order to stop the practice, the federal government would likely have to sue. With Texas pressing further into immigration enforcement than any other state has done before, some immigrant rights advocates have been baffled that the Biden administration hasn’t done so.

Gilman said that may be because Abbott’s order doesn’t fully call for the state to take immigration enforcement into its own hands. State officers are still handing off the migrants to federal immigration authorities at the border.

“It’s not completely clear that it’s 100% state unilateral action, as opposed to collaborative action with the federal government,” she said.

Immigrant rights advocates also say Abbott could be inviting a lawsuit in hopes of setting up a legal battle with the Biden administration with the goal of overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in a 2012 Arizona immigration law to expand the state’s ability to participate in immigration enforcement.

Texas has successfully been able to get initial wins in lawsuits against the Biden administration that have led the White House to restart two of the most consequential Trump-era immigration policies: Title 42, the pandemic health order that essentially closes the border to most people, and Migrant Protection Protocols, or “remain in Mexico”, which forces some asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico as their cases make their way through American courts. Another Texas lawsuit also led to a federal judge ruling that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — a program for younger immigrants who were undocumented to be able to get renewable work permits — is illegal. These three cases are still playing out in federal courts.

People who were apprehended by state troopers after crossing the border were brought to the International Bridge in Eagle Pass, where they were handed over to Border Patrol custody on Thursday, May 28, 2022.

People who were apprehended by state troopers after crossing the border are brought to the International Bridge in Eagle Pass on May 28 to be handed over to Border Patrol custody. Credit: Sergio Flores for The Texas Tribune

In his executive order, Abbott cited the decision in a case over Arizona’s so-called “show me your papers” law, which required police to ask people for proof of citizenship. Abbott wrote that the Supreme Court did not address “whether reasonable suspicion of illegal entry or another immigration crime would be a legitimate basis for prolonging a detention, or whether this too would be preempted by federal law.”

Reichlin-Melnick said Abbott was trying to find a loophole in the Arizona case.

“Gov. Abbott says he thinks it’s an open question about whether or not state agents can enforce unlawful entry,” Reichlin-Melnick said. “If the state can enforce federal criminal immigration laws, that would get rid of quite a lot of the restrictions put on states in Arizona v. U.S., and it’s possible Gov. Abbott is looking for a test case that can expand things in that area.”

Abbott did not answer a question about whether he wanted that case revisited and referred questions about the program to DPS.

But other Texas officials have been open about their wish to have the Supreme Court reconsider the decision.

Earlier this year, Texas Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster told a state Senate committee on border security that his office would like to see the court reconsider its decision in the Arizona case on whether local police officers could arrest migrants on immigration violations. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-3 decision that local police didn’t have the authority to arrest someone based solely on their immigration status.

“Our office doesn’t agree with that ruling. We abide by that ruling because that is the current state of the law out of Supreme Court,” he said. “We welcome laws that might allow us to have a new case that we could go up on to redress this issue because the makeup of the Supreme Court has changed.”

Meanwhile, Abbott has gotten around that requirement by directing state authorities to arrest migrants on state trespassing charges when they veer onto private property.

Reichlin-Melnick said it is clear that legal precedent bars local law enforcement agencies from enforcing immigration law without permission from the federal government.

“It’s pretty clear it’s not an open question. The Supreme Court has said over and over again that this is a federal responsibility,” Reichlin-Melnick said. “[Abbott’s] attempting to loophole his way out of that, but it’s not a particularly strong loophole.”

Disclosure: The University of Texas at El Paso and the University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/08/01/texas-bus-migrants-ports/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

“What are you going to do about your failures?”: Uvalde parents demand answers at school board meeting

UVALDE — Tina Quintanilla-Taylor’s 8-year-old daughter joined an army of angry adults in this town of 15,000 people Monday night and stood at a microphone, looking up to school district officials who sat behind tables draped in maroon cloth on a high school auditorium stage.

The young girl wore the same sundress that she wore to Robb Elementary on May 24, when an 18-year-old gunman massacred 19 students and two teachers.

“Most of those kids were my friends, and that’s not good,” Quintanilla-Taylor’s daughter told school board members and Superintendent Hal Harrell. “And I don’t wanna go to your guys’ school if you don’t have protection.”

For about three hours Monday evening, relatives of the students and teachers killed during the worst school shooting in Texas history demanded the resignation of the school district superintendent, criticized school board members and threatened to keep their children out of school until officials promised to improve campus security.

The school board called the special meeting to let parents and residents provide their thoughts and ask questions about what the district plans to do regarding security for the upcoming school year. Many parents also said they should’ve been given an open platform to voice their concerns much sooner.

The gathering came one day after a Texas House panel report found that nearly 400 law enforcement officers from several agencies descended on the scene of the shooting in a chaotic, uncoordinated response that stretched for 73 more minutes before the gunman was confronted and killed.

The report also found that Robb Elementary’s safety protocols fell short. While its active shooter policy called for classroom doors to be locked, multiple witnesses told the House committee that employees often left interior and exterior doors unlocked or propped open. School staff didn’t reliably receive notices from the Uvalde schools alert system, and some personnel didn’t always respond to them with urgency.

“So I ask you: What are you going to do about your failures? Are you going to take responsibility? Are you going to make this right?” Rachel Martinez, the mother of four children, asked district officials gathered at the Uvalde High School auditorium.

Many parents demanded that Harrell and school board members resign unless they fire Uvalde schools police Chief Pete Arredondo by noon Tuesday. Arredondo was among the first officers to arrive at the school the day of the shooting. For weeks, state leaders have said he was the incident commander and blamed him for law enforcement waiting more than an hour to confront the gunman.

Arredondo, who was placed on administrative leave last month, told The Texas Tribune that he did not consider himself the incident commander. The school district’s active shooter response plan that he co-authored, though, says the chief will “become the person in control of the efforts of all law enforcement and first responders that arrive at the scene.”

“He didn’t do anything and you’re still standing by that,” one resident said about Arredondo. “Y’all do not give a damn about our children or us. Stand with us or against us cause we ain’t going nowhere.”

The House report released Sunday said failures went beyond local police. The report said 376 law enforcement officers from several local, state and federal agencies lacked clear leadership, basic communications and sufficient urgency to take down the gunman. It found that in the absence of a strong incident commander, an officer from another agency could have — and should have — stepped up to the task.

One speaker Monday alluded to the 1970 school walkouts in which Mexican American students in Uvalde demanded equal education to their white peers. The resident of the predominantly Hispanic city questioned if Department of Public Safety officers who responded to the scene saw the victims as important.

“I can’t help but wonder if DPS didn’t think our children were worth saving,” the woman told the school board, noting the dozens of troopers in the auditorium providing security at the Monday meeting.

Vicente Salazar, whose granddaughter Layla Salazar died in the shooting, told the school board that it “hired trash,” referring to the school police department.

Javier Chavez, the cousin of 10-year-old shooting victim Amerie Jo Garza, said as he sees how officials are responding to the shooting, he loses “that much more” respect for the superintendent.

“Y’all are sitting on y’all’s asses,” Chavez told Harrell directly.

The committee’s findings echoed weeks of criticisms by law enforcement experts and Uvalde residents of the police response which they say did not align with the accepted doctrine across law enforcement that officers immediately confront active shooters. A video obtained and released last week by the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV, viewed and reported last month by the Tribune, showed officers’ inaction while children in two classrooms were being killed.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday called the House committee’s findings “beyond disturbing” and said there are critical changes needed as a result. DPS said Monday that it launched an internal investigation to determine whether its own officers violated agency standards during their response to the shooting.

Residents also criticized a lack of security measures at Robb and other schools and peppered officials with questions about their plans for increasing safety before another school year starts. The school board was scheduled to vote later Monday on delaying the start of school so it could increase security at campuses but they adjourned without taking such a vote after the open forum ran late.

As parents continued to ask questions and criticize officials’ response to the shooting, school board members on the stage kept their responses to a minimum, repeatedly promising residents and parents that their concerns would be addressed.

“The way things are going, Dr. Harrell, doesn’t look good,” one Uvalde resident said. “I don’t believe it’s gonna end well. I don’t believe it’s gonna end well for any of y’all. Some way, some how, you’re gonna have to face the music.”


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/07/18/uvalde-school-shooting-parents-officials/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Uvalde residents frustrated with officials over finger pointing, conflicting accounts and leaked video

By Uriel J. García, The Texas Tribune

UVALDE — Over the past month and a half, Adam Martinez has attended Uvalde City Council meetings in this grieving Texas town hoping officials will give some insight into why police officers waited 77 minutes to confront and kill an 18-year-old gunman who fatally shot 19 elementary school students and two teachers on May 24.

Earlier this week, at the third city council meeting Martinez attended since the state’s deadliest school shooting, he stood up from his chair inside an auditorium to challenge Mayor Don McLaughlin’s criticism that surveillance footage showing officers waiting in a school hallway was leaked to news outlets.

The mayor said the leak “was one of the most chicken things” he’d ever seen. But what Martinez wanted to know is what McLaughlin thought of the officers’ lack of action and if any of them were going to be held accountable.

“I don't want to get into it with you, Adam,” McLaughlin said from his seat between other council members.

Martinez pressed him and the mayor said every officer in the hallway should be held accountable.

“It's confusing — we really don't know who is in charge,” said Martinez, whose 8-year-old son was at Robb Elementary School the day of the shooting.

The interaction between Martinez, 37, and McLaughlin highlights a prolonged — and growing — frustration residents and parents of victims have felt for nearly two months since the horrific massacre. People in Uvalde, a city of about 15,000 people west of San Antonio, say they can’t depend on getting information from city, county or state leaders who for weeks have provided conflicting accounts, pointed fingers at each other over the law enforcement response and publicly squabbled about why more details can’t be provided. Some residents have depended on leaks to news outlets for insight, and others have turned to social media.

Active-shooter protocols train police to confront mass shooters immediately. Victims’ families, Uvalde residents and elected leaders have questioned and criticized why police waited more than an hour at Robb Elementary to confront the gunman. Law enforcement experts have said that several lapses in judgment occurred during the response to the Uvalde shooting.

State Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, the chair of a state House committee investigating the shooting and law enforcement response, had promised to show victims’ loved ones the school surveillance footage on Sunday — before it was to be released to the public. So it came as a shock to parents when the footage was published earlier this week by the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV, then later disseminated by national news outlets. In a letter to readers, the Statesman’s editor said the paper published the video to bring light to what happened and also edited out the screams of children.

For many victims’ relatives, seeing the footage online retraumatized them, furthered their suspicions about trusting officials and prompted them to question news organizations’ judgments.

Kimberly Rubio, whose 10-year-old daughter Alexandria “Lexi” Aniyah Rubio was killed, appeared at a news conference Tuesday in Washington, D.C. along with other victims’ parents and said it was unnecessary for the video to have been leaked and published before they could review it since it was coming out soon.

“We understand that the media wants to hold people accountable because the government hasn't been transparent with us, but you don't need the audio for that and you don't need the full video for that,” she said.

The Texas Tribune reviewed the surveillance video from the hallway outside where the shooting happened last month and published a detailed account of law enforcement’s delayed response, but did not obtain a copy of the video and did not publish one.

The leak of the video followed a series of changing stories and conflicting accounts about how the gunman got into the school, who led the police response and what caused the delay in killing the shooter.

Last week, the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University in San Marcos released a report saying a Uvalde police officer had the gunman in his crosshairs and asked a supervisor for permission to shoot — but the supervisor did not hear the request or responded too late. ALERRT was asked by the state Department of Public Safety to review the response to the shooting.

Two days later, McLaughlin refuted the report.

“A Uvalde Police Department officer saw someone outside but was unsure of who he saw and observed children in the area as well,” McLaughlin said. “Ultimately, it was a coach with children on the playground, not the shooter.”

John Curnutt, the assistant director of ALERRT, told CNN in a statement earlier this week that their findings were based on two statements from an officer that was later contradicted by a third statement.

“At the time we released our initial after-action, the information we had on this particular officer came from the officer's two previous statements given to investigators,” he said in a statement. “We were not aware that just prior to us releasing our initial after-action, the officer gave a third statement to investigators that was different from the first two statements.”

The day after the shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott said school police officers had “engaged with the gunman” outside before the gunman got into the school. The next day, a DPS commander said the gunman got into the school unobstructed by police. Abbott, in turn, said he was “livid” about being “misled.”

Uvalde schools police Chief Pete Arredondo defended the law enforcement response in an interview with the Tribune last month. Among other things, he said he and other officers tried to get inside adjoining classrooms where the shooter was, but the doors were reinforced and impenetrable. But no such attempts were caught in school surveillance footage reviewed by the Tribune and some law enforcement officials are skeptical that the doors were ever locked.

DPS Director Steve McCraw has said that Arredondo was the incident commander at the scene of the shooting and blamed him for deciding to “place the lives of officers before the lives of children.” Arredondo has disputed that he was the incident commander. State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, told The New York Times “there was no incident commander” and called the response a “complete system failure.”

And on Friday evening another instance of law enforcement squabbling came to light when The New York Times reported that Uvalde officials had asked the head of DPS to sign on to a statement in June that would have praised police for their response to the shooting. McCraw refused, the Times reported.

On Sunday, the House committee investigating the incident is scheduled to release its own report about the shooting and police response.

But Martinez said the repeated back-and-forth has led him to mistrust not only news outlets but official leaders. He said all he wants to know is how the city is going to make sure this type of tragedy doesn’t happen again. He said his son’s personality has changed from playful and jovial to serious and anxious.

“They're not on the same page. There's lack of communication, there's incompetence, all those things don't mix,” he said. “Those are the people that are in charge of the school police, those are the people that are supposed to be keeping my kid safe. But do you think I'm gonna feel good? Do you think I’m going feel safe?”

Some residents who didn’t have children at the school have also grown frustrated.

Pastor Daniel Myers, who has attended city council meetings, said he approached a Uvalde police officer to ask him why the department hasn’t publicly explained why police officers waited so long to enter the classroom.

Myers said the officer responded “‘If I talk, I go to jail.’ So I told him, ‘Go to jail then, but do the right thing.’”

“If it bothers me, if it irritates me and frustrates me, can you imagine how the parents feel?” Myers said.

Disclosure: The New York Times has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


Join us at The Texas Tribune Festival, happening Sept. 22-24 in downtown Austin, and hear from 300+ speakers shaping the future of Texas including Joe Straus, Jen Psaki, Joaquin Castro, Mayra Flores and many others. See all speakers announced to date and buy tickets.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/07/15/uvalde-shooting-details-officials/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

'Empty words': Uvalde City Council ripped by victim's families at emotional hearing

At an emotional City Council meeting Thursday, families of the Robb Elementary School shooting victims demanded the mayor release details from the investigation. Mayor Don McLaughlin told them he didn’t have any new information and the city can’t share anything with the public because of the ongoing investigation.

“Nobody’s giving us any answers, it’s been over a month, you have no idea how frustrating that is. We’re sitting here, just listening to empty words,” said the sister of Irma Garcia, one of two teachers who was killed in the May 24 massacre along with 19 students. She didn’t identify herself by name when she addressed the City Council.

Tina Quintanilla-Taylor, whose daughter survived the shooting, also made a plea to state leaders who have details of the investigation and haven’t shared them with the community: “Show your face. Answer our questions, now,” she said, facing TV news cameras.

Some family members also demanded to know why Pete Arredondo, a City Council member and school district police chief whose actions during the shooting have brought withering criticism, failed to show up to his second consecutive City Council meeting. According to the city charter, the City Council could vacate the seat if Arredondo misses a third consecutive meeting.

McLaughlin told family members that if city officials released details about the shooting investigation, they could be prosecuted, citing letters from the Texas Department of Public Safety and Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee requesting that no information be released until the investigation is complete.

The shooting is being investigated by the Texas Rangers, who are part of DPS, and the FBI.

In the letter dated June 8, Busbee does not mention prosecuting anyone, but says that “Any release of records to that incident at this time would interfere with said ongoing investigation and would impede a thorough and complete investigation.”

Busbee didn’t return a phone message from The Texas Tribune seeking comment Thursday.

The shooting by an 18-year-old Uvalde man — who was killed by law enforcement after they waited more than an hour to confront the shooter — is the worst K-12 school shooting in the country since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

The aftermath has brought anguished questions from parents and residents who are demanding answers, as well as finger-pointing between state and local officials over what most law enforcement experts agree was a botched response by police as children were being slain inside the school.

During the council meeting, family members discussed the idea of starting an effort to recall Busbee. McLaughlin also offered to resign if Uvalde residents felt he wasn’t doing his job

“I’m not a quitter. But if this community feels like I haven’t done a good job as mayor and they want me to resign, I’d be happy to,” he said.

The meeting came as a state House committee held its second straight day of private interviews as part of an investigation of the shooting. The committee, which is chaired by state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, heard testimony from the mayor, teachers and Uvalde police and state police officers.

Burrows has said he believes witnesses would give more candid testimony away from the public eye.

Death is a constant risk for undocumented migrants entering Texas

By Lomi Kriel, The Texas Tribune and ProPublica, and Uriel J. García, The Texas Tribune

Nearly four dozen migrants were found dead in an overheated tractor trailer on an industrial road in south San Antonio Monday. Many of them had been sprinkled with steak seasoning in a possible attempt by smugglers to ward off authorities, law enforcement officials said.

The sheer scale and disturbing details, including migrants who apparently tried to escape the suffocating triple-digit temperatures inside the truck by jumping to their deaths along several city blocks, were horrific.

Large numbers of fatalities along the most heavily trafficked northbound path from Mexico and Central America, for decades the route of those seeking the American dream, are not unusual or unprecedented. Still, the staggering amount Monday, more than any in recent memory, stunned law enforcement and migrant advocates alike.

The magnitude may reflect more migrants seeking increasingly dangerous pathways to come here as enforcement policies along the border — both by the Biden administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — have strengthened. Biden has kept in place a pandemic-era regulation from the Trump administration that expels many migrants immediately without asylum hearings.

Immigration officials have recorded a record number of apprehensions at the southwest border under the Biden administration, with most single men and some families sent back to Mexico. People caught crossing repeatedly have also peaked under the administration’s policies, which effectively curtail many asylum-seekers.

As the prospect of being able to stay in the U.S. and seek that protection has become more difficult, deaths have risen. At least 650 migrants died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in 2021, more than in any other year since the International Organization for Migration, a part of the United Nations, began tracking the data in 2014.

“The border is more closed down now than almost any time in history,” said Allison Norris, a supervising attorney for immigration legal services for the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. “This has led folks to increasingly seek out smugglers and engage in more dangerous ways of getting across the border.”

She said most of her clients would prefer to turn themselves into official ports of entry at the border and seek asylum rather than crossing illegally, which is usually much more dangerous and involves risky journeys through thick Texas brush or deserts and ruthless smugglers.

But under the Trump and Biden administrations’ policies of expelling migrants or keeping them in Mexico to wait for their asylum hearing, that was more difficult, she said.

Before Monday, the worst smuggling-related mass fatality in recent Texas history came in 2003, when 19 people died after being trapped in an unrefrigerated dairy truck for hundreds of miles.

Authorities later estimated that the temperature rose above 170 degrees as the desperate migrants inside tried to claw their way out of the insulated trailer. The Houston-bound truck stopped in Victoria, where the driver unhitched the trailer and drove off.

Seventeen people were found dead in the trailer, and two later died. The driver was ultimately tried on federal charges and sentenced to 34 years in prison.

San Antonio was the scene of another mass tragedy in 2017, when 39 people were found in a truck trailer in a Walmart parking lot. Eight died in the truck, and two later at a hospital. The driver of the vehicle was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In 1987, 19 men died after being left locked in a boxcar on a railroad siding near Sierra Blanca in far West Texas in what a Border Patrol official at the time called “a tragic series of errors and misjudgments.”

The men had crossed into the United States near El Paso, and were herded by a smuggler into a heavily insulated boxcar with massive thick floors and walls. The Dallas-bound car sat on a siding for hours as the temperature inside soared.

The men tried to escape, but the floors were too thick, a lone survivor later told authorities.

The use of commercial vehicles to smuggle people into the United States from Mexico, or move undocumented individuals already in the country, is a decades-long problem. There is little evidence the problem has lessened with the enhanced presence of National Guard and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers along the Texas-Mexico border this past year as part of Abbott’s controversial border security program, Operation Lone Star.

Earlier this month in Corpus Christi, a 24-year-old Mission resident pleaded guilty to federal smuggling charges for trying to transport 73 people in a tractor-trailer. He was arrested at the Border Patrol checkpoint near Falfurrias after a search of his vehicle found dozens of people inside from Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, Mexico and El Salvador.

Last January, a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper found 28 migrants hidden inside a tractor-trailer’s sleeping cab. The driver has been charged with 28 counts of human smuggling and evading arrest.

DPS through the governor’s Operation Lone Star efforts has tried to highlight how its efforts are working to stop illegal immigration, even as the number of migrants crossing the border into Texas have surged nearly every month.

On the agency’s Facebook site, videos show arrests including one from March in Carrizo Springs, where 76 migrants were discovered inside a commercial truck.

Not all commercial vehicles used are large 18-wheelers. In April 2016, a Michigan man was arrested trying to illegally transport 10 undocumented individuals inside a padlocked Penske rental truck. The defendant told Border Patrol agents that he had picked up the truck in Laredo and was driving it to Corpus Christi. The driver had no key to the truck’s rear cargo area and temperatures were already in the 90s. An X-ray of the truck revealed the truck driver’s human cargo

In recent years, Mexico has stepped up its own policing of smuggling under pressure from the United States. In 2019, more than 200 migrants were discovered hidden in secret compartments in various trucks by an X-ray scanner used by Mexico border officials.

U.S. transportation officials have long waged a public relations campaign against human smuggling via commercial ground vehicles. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration offers training on how to spot smugglers.

The more than a dozen migrants, including children, who remain hospitalized from Monday’s tragedy in San Antonio might qualify for a visa providing legal residency in the United States for migrants who are crime victims or cooperating witnesses, said Norris, the attorney with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.

But some qualifying migrants could have a harder time tapping this immigration benefit because of Title 42, the pandemic health order the Trump and Biden administrations have used more than 2 million times since March 2020 to immediately expel a majority of recent border crossers, including asylum-seekers.

Taylor Levy, an immigration attorney in California, said it’s likely that the surviving migrants could be held in federal custody during the investigation and ultimately kicked out of the country.

“Unfortunately, we have seen in the past that being victimized by one’s smugglers is oftentimes insufficient to protect from being deported,” Levy said.

Terri Langford contributed to this report.

Disclosure: Facebook has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/28/texas-migrant-deaths-smuggling/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

With Roe v. Wade on the line, some Texans look south of the border for abortion drugs

By Eleanor Klibanoff, Mitchell Ferman and Uriel J. García, The Texas Tribune

NUEVO PROGRESO, Mexico — Maria laid the pregnancy test facedown on the counter in her boyfriend’s bathroom in McAllen and set a timer for the longest three minutes of her life.

She watched the timer tick down, mentally running through her litany of reassurances: They’d used a condom; she’d taken the Plan B pill; maybe her missed period was just an anomaly.

“I was just praying, please don’t let this be the case,” she said. “I had no idea how I’d navigate the situation. But what can I do but flip this test over?”

It was positive.

Maria, who was a 17-year-old high school junior at the time, spoke with The Texas Tribune on the condition of anonymity and is identified in this story with a pseudonym because she fears repercussions from her family for sharing her experience.

Maria came from generations of teenage mothers, and while her Catholic parents didn’t talk with her much about sex, they were clear they had different expectations for her. They wanted her to leave the area for college to pursue her dreams of studying law.

She couldn’t have the baby, she decided.

It was October 2020, a year before Texas would implement the most restrictive abortion law in the country, and 18 months before a draft opinion obtained by Politico revealed that the U.S. Supreme Court plans to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that established constitutional protections for abortion.

But even before all that, Maria had few options to access legal abortion care. There is only one clinic in the Rio Grande Valley, and she would need to get parental consent or a judicial bypass granted by a court. Even finding the money to pay for a legal abortion seemed impossible.

But living along the border presented another option.

Cheap regulated and unregulated medication is available over the counter at Mexican pharmacies, just a short walk away on the other side of the border. Rio Grande Valley residents and people from all corners of the state often cross into Mexico to get dental work or stock up on anything from daily vitamins and epinephrine to Valium and Xanax.

And then there’s misoprostol, a medication taken orally to prevent stomach ulcers — or terminate pregnancies.

Texas regulates abortion-inducing drugs like misoprostol more strictly than federal regulations require; they can be prescribed and dispensed only in-person by a doctor through the first seven weeks of pregnancy.

Just over the border, though, it’s a different story.

With the constitutional protection for abortion on the line in the U.S., reproductive rights advocates expect to see more Texans traveling to Mexico to get abortion-inducing drugs they can’t obtain legally at home.

But despite the ease of access, abortion is still highly stigmatized in heavily Catholic communities on both sides of the border, representing a risk for patients who may need to seek medical care after a self-managed abortion.

Maria first learned about self-managed abortions online. She knew she could get the pills from a pharmacy over the border much more easily than she could access a legal abortion in Texas.

“I was definitely concerned about the legality of it,” Maria said. “But I also knew, chances are, it will be fine and I had to do it.”

Across the border

Jesus, Pope John Paul II and the Virgin of Guadalupe look down on customers buying abortion-inducing medication at Uncle Sam Pharmacy in Nuevo Progreso, a Mexican border town along the banks of the Rio Grande about 25 miles away from McAllen.

The portraits hang over the shelves of medication inside the pharmacy, just one reminder of how intertwined religion and everyday life is in the region. But Victor Olvera, the pharmacy’s manager, knows that no matter the religious views of many in the border area, there will always be customers looking to terminate their pregnancies.

Victor Olvera puts two pharmaceutical drugs meant to be taken for ulcers back on the shelf at the Uncle Sam Pharmacy in Nuevo Progreso, Mexico on May 4, 2022.

Victor Olvera puts two pharmaceutical drugs meant to be taken for ulcers back on the shelf. Uncle Sam Pharmacy. Nuevo Progreso, MX. May 4, 2022. Credit: Jason Garza for The Texas Tribune

Victor Olvera holds two pharmaceutical drugs meant to be taken for ulcers. Uncle Sam Pharmacy. Nuevo Progreso, Mexico. May 4, 2022.

Victor Olvera holds two pharmaceutical drugs meant to be taken for ulcers. Uncle Sam Pharmacy. Nuevo Progreso, Mexico. May 4, 2022. Credit: Jason Garza for The Texas Tribune

First: Pharmacy manager Victor Olvera puts boxes of drugs back on the shelf at the Uncle Sam Pharmacy in Nuevo Progreso, Mexico, on Wednesday. Last: Olvera holds two pharmaceutical drugs taken to prevent stomach ulcers. The medication is also commonly used to terminate pregnancies. Credit: Jason Garza for The Texas Tribune

Olvera expects that changes to abortion access in the U.S. will mean more business at Uncle Sam Pharmacy.

“The law is going to change and there will be more people coming,” Olvera said.

He doesn’t plan to stock up on more misoprostol just yet — he said he will wait and see. The medication is cheap to buy: Some pharmacies in Nuevo Progreso sell generic misoprostol for as low as $20, while name brands such as Pfizer tend to go for more than $140. Pharmacists at seven different locations said this week they have not received complaints over the years about complications from the medication.

Misoprostol is 80% to 95% effective at terminating early pregnancies by itself. In the United States, it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration to be used alongside mifepristone to terminate pregnancies up to 10 weeks along.

While U.S. regulators have approved only the two-drug regimen, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the World Health Organization both endorse the use of misoprostol alone if a patient can’t access mifepristone. Studies have found misoprostol to be generally safe and effective for terminating early pregnancies.

But that doesn’t mean all pharmacies in Mexico like to stock the drug on their shelves.

“I don’t want to sell this,” said Miguel Hernandez, a pharmacist at Pharmacy Rivera who noted that several customers come to his shop looking for the pills each week. “But if a customer asks if we have the medication, we have to sell it.”

Even before Texas banned abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy last year, people have turned to Mexican pharmacies for years to quietly and discreetly terminate their pregnancies.

Maria and her boyfriend convinced a family member to buy the medication for them at a pharmacy over the border. A few days later, she had it in hand.

Following instructions she found online, she took the medication alone in her bathroom. She experienced terrible cramping, she said, and what felt like a very heavy period for several days. The online guide told her what to do if she had to seek medical care, but she ultimately was able to manage the side effects at home.

“I immediately felt such a sense of relief,” she said. “Being a mother, that wasn’t something I was ready for and it wasn’t something I was willing to do. It was just not an option for me.”

Religion in the region

On Wednesday morning, Valerio García, a 69-year-old car mechanic, stood in front of Whole Woman’s Health, McAllen’s only abortion clinic. He wore black slacks, a beige button-down shirt with a rosary hanging from his neck and a cowboy hat with a Virgin of Guadalupe pin on it.

Amelio García, 69, who is a mechanic, in front of the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. García shares that his daughter was told that her son was going to be born without certain organs and that they recommended that she had an abortion. They both prayed and the baby was born healthy. He also says that later on they found out that his grandson has mild autism. For around seven years he has been going to the Whole Woman’s Health clinic to pray. “It is rare, but there have been woman that get out of this place crying not wanting to have an abortion. Our job is to bear witness, to be present.”

Valerio García, 69, prays in front of the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen on Wednesday. Credit: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune

The clinic, a one-story building with security cameras near the entrance in the city’s downtown, is also the only abortion provider in the U.S. along the 1,200-mile long Texas-Mexico border.

For the past seven years, García said he has joined a group of religious men who show up every Saturday morning near the entrance of the clinic to pray for the women looking to get an abortion. He said the men pray that God can intervene and change the women’s minds about their plans to abort.

“I think there are people who go through this process because it’s been normalized and they lack information,” he said. “But they don’t realize there are repercussions both physically and mentally.”

If the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn the constitutional protection for abortion rights, he said he would welcome it.

García, who is Catholic, said he opposes the procedure because his first grandson was at risk of being aborted. If his daughter had heeded the doctor’s option to abort, García would have missed out on the love of his grandchild, he said.

Amelio García, 69, who is a mechanic, shows a photo of his first grandson, in McAllen, Texas on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. García shares that his daughter was told that her son was going to be born without certain organs and that they recommended that she had an abortion. They both prayed and the baby was born healthy. He also says that later on they found out that his grandson has mild autism. For around seven years he has been going to the Whole Woman’s Health clinic to pray. “It is rare, but there have been woman that get out of this place crying not wanting to have an abortion. Our job is to bear witness, to be present.”</p data-verified=

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Amelio García, 69, who is a mechanic, poses for a photo in front of the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen, Texas on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. Credit: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune

Amelio García, 69, who is a mechanic, poses for a photo in front of the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen, Texas on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. García shares that his daughter was told that her son was going to be born without certain organs and that they recommended that she had an abortion. They both prayed and the baby was born healthy. He also says that later on they found out that his grandson has mild autism. For around seven years he has been going to the Whole Woman’s Health clinic to pray. “It is rare, but there have been woman that get out of this place crying not wanting to have an abortion. Our job is to bear witness, to be present.”</p data-verified=

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Amelio García, 69, who is a mechanic, poses for a photo in front of the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen, Texas on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. Credit: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune

First: Valerio García shows a photo of his first grandson. Last: García’s rosary hangs from his neck. Credit: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune

He said his daughter was three months pregnant with her first child when a doctor told her the baby’s organs were not developing properly. The doctor presented abortion as an option. García said she turned to him for advice. He prayed for her and she decided to go through with the pregnancy.

The boy is now 13 years old and healthy, he said.

“For me, this story tells me that babies have life in the mother’s womb,” he said, holding his phone up to show a picture of his grandson sitting in front of a piano.

The population in Hidalgo County, where McAllen is located, is mostly Hispanic, and many of its residents identify as Catholic. The Catholic Church has opposed abortion because its doctrine teaches that life starts at the moment of conception.

But south of the border and across Latin America — a region known historically for its Catholic faith and social conservatism — feminist movements have spurred monumental changes for reproductive rights. In recent years, three of the region’s four most populous countries have shifted on the issue: Argentina legalized abortion in 2020, Mexico decriminalized abortion in 2021 and Colombia decriminalized it in February.

Nancy Cárdenas Peña, the Texas director for policy and advocacy at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, said that regardless of religious influence, reproductive rights advocates have made great strides in helping Valley residents understand that the right to an abortion is a women’s health issue and not a religious and moral issue.

She pointed to Edinburg, a city just north of McAllen where last July advocates stopped the city from adopting an ordinance that would have made it illegal to perform or help someone get an abortion.

“I think at the end of the day, the simple values-based messaging stance is that everyone loves someone who’s had an abortion,” Cárdenas Peña said. “That’s very true and very simple.”

Reproductive rights advocates in the Rio Grande Valley also have different religious values, she said, but they ultimately believe in bodily autonomy.

Barriers to access

The Rio Grande Valley has long struggled with unique challenges to accessing reproductive health care. While some Texans may consider traveling out of state to access legal abortions, that’s not an option for the region’s many undocumented immigrants, Cárdenas Peña said.

There are immigration checkpoints driving out of the Valley to go elsewhere in the state, and it’s common for immigration officers to be at the airport asking for people’s documentation. While some Valley residents can travel to Mexico for misoprostol, undocumented people won’t be able to return legally to the U.S. if they were to go south for the pill.

“Do people attend their abortion appointments? Or do they risk being placed in deportation proceedings?” Cárdenas Peña said.

Nancy Cárdenas, 31, state director for policy and advocacy for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, in McAllen on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. “The State does not have the infrastructure to support family planning the way that they would like to talk about. Instead they are giving millions of dollars to the alternatives to abortion program which is crisis pregnancy centers that actually don’t offer medical services, don’t have medical providers, or staff. It’s basically just centers to steer you away from getting access to abortion care.”

Nancy Cárdenas Peña, 31, state director for policy and advocacy for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, in McAllen on Wednesday. “I think at the end of the day, the simple values-based messaging stance is that everyone loves someone who’s had an abortion,” Cárdenas Peña said. Credit: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune

Noemi Pratt, a board member with South Texans for Reproductive Justice, said the recent case of a 26-year-old woman who was charged with murder after what authorities described as a self-induced abortion in the neighboring Starr County had a chilling effect on the Valley.

Her charge was dropped, but with new limits on abortion seemingly on the horizon, “people can get the wrong idea about what they can and can’t do,” Pratt said.

“We’ve gotten a lot of calls from people asking if they should be going to their abortion appointments,” Pratt said.

Maria, the South Texas woman who terminated her pregnancy a year and a half ago, says she has no regrets. After her abortion, she was accepted to college out of state and though she and her boyfriend broke up, it was on good terms.

She’s never told her parents or any of her friends that she’s had an abortion. She doesn’t think she ever will.

Now, with the Supreme Court’s draft opinion making it clear that abortion access is likely to be eviscerated in Texas and large swaths of the nation, Maria finds herself thinking more and more about how lucky she was to live near the border.

“There’s so many people in the same state that live five hours away from Mexico … and it’s going to be a lot harder” to access abortion care, she said. “They’re probably going to face more detrimental consequences.”

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/05/06/south-texas-mexico-abortion-drugs/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

What did Greg Abbott’s border inspections turn up? Oil leaks, flat tires and zero drugs

By Uriel J. García, The Texas Tribune

State troopers ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott to inspect every commercial truck coming from Mexico earlier this month — which clogged international trade with Mexico — found zero drugs, weapons or any other type of contraband, according to data released by the Department of Public Safety to The Texas Tribune.

Earlier this month, Abbott ordered troopers to thoroughly inspect every commercial truck coming from Mexico’s four border states in what he described as an effort to stop illegal drugs and migrants from being smuggled into Texas. His order for increased state inspections was part of his response to the Biden administration’s announcement that it will lift Title 42 — the pandemic-era health order used by federal immigration officials to expel migrants, including asylum-seekers, at the U.S.-Mexico border. The expiration of the order is expected to increase the number of migrants seeking entry to the U.S.

Over eight days, starting April 8, troopers conducted more than 4,100 inspections of trucks. Troopers didn’t find any contraband but took 850 trucks off the road for various violations related to their equipment. Other truckers were given warnings, and at least 345 were cited for things such as underinflated tires, broken turn signals and oil leaks.

DPS Director Steve McCraw said at a Friday news conference with Abbott that the reason troopers hadn’t found any drugs or migrants in commercial trucks is because drug cartels “don’t like troopers stopping them, certainly north of the border, and they certainly don’t like 100% inspections of commercial vehicles on the bridges. And once that started, we’ve seen a decreased amount of trafficking across bridges — common sense.”

But Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy group for human rights in the Americas, said it’s not likely cartels stopped the smuggling of drugs because of the state’s inspections. He said many illegal drugs smuggled into the United States are hidden in small compartments or spare tires of people’s vehicles going through international bridges for tourists. He said if smugglers were trying to hide illegal drugs in a commercial truck, it’s most likely federal immigration officials found them before the trucks were directed to the DPS secondary inspections.

“It just seems odd to me that DPS would be that much of a deterrent for smugglers deciding whether to bring something after already passing through the gauntlet of CBP,” he said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection routinely inspects commercial cargo coming from Mexico for illegal drugs and people being smuggled as soon as truckers cross the international bridges. CBP called Texas’ inspections duplicative and “unnecessary.”

[Video: Texas produce industry will feel long-term impacts of Gov. Greg Abbott’s vehicle inspection program]

The state inspections created a backlog of 18-wheelers on both sides of the border, with truckers reporting delays of several hours up to a few days, when it usually takes between 20 minutes and a couple of hours for commercial trucks to cross after they’ve been inspected by CBP. The delays also resulted in rotten produce and lost business for grocers.

The state’s inspections at eight commercial bridges that connect Texas cities with Mexican cities in Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas ended Friday after Abbott signed agreements with the four Mexican governors that they would increase security measures to prevent the smuggling of drugs and migrants. Abbott has said he would bring back the secondary inspections if the governors’ security initiatives don’t decrease the number of migrants attempting to cross the border.

Abbott said the deals with the four governors were “historic,” calling them an example of how border states can work together on immigration. But three of the four Mexican governors said they will simply continue security measures they put in place before Abbott ordered the state inspections.

Mexico is among the United States’ largest trading partners. The total trade between the two countries amounted to $56.25 billion in February, according to recent government data. Texas’ biggest ports of entry — Port Laredo, Ysleta, Pharr International Bridge, Eagle Pass, El Paso, Brownsville International Bridge and Del Rio International Bridge — accounted for nearly 65% of the total trade between the U.S. and Mexico in 2021.

Reporters James Barragán and Mitchell Ferman contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/04/21/greg-abbott-texas-border-inspections/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Gov. Greg Abbott announces deals with two more Mexican governors to halt Texas’ vehicle inspections at the border

Gov. Greg Abbott announced two more deals with Mexican governors that will halt the new commercial vehicle inspections at international bridges that have bogged down border commerce.

Abbott and Chihuahua Gov. María Eugenia Campos Galván announced their agreement Thursday evening. Hours later, Abbott's office announced an agreement with Coahuila Gov. Miguel Ángel Riquelme Solís. Chihuahua has a major border crossing at Ciudad Juárez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso. Coahuila shares international bridges with Del Rio and Eagle Pass.

Abbott said state troopers will continue inspecting every commercial truck entering Texas from Tamaulipas, which shares border crossings with McAllen and Brownsville.

As part of one of the agreements, Chihuahua will continue to implement security measures that Campos Galván started when she came into office in 2021. In a news conference with Abbott in Austin, Campos Galván called the agreement a “win-win situation.” Abbott called Campos Galván’s security plan as “the best border security plan that I’ve seen from any governor from Mexico.”

The two deals came a day after Abbott reached a similar agreement with the governor of Nuevo León, the Mexican state that shares a narrow sliver of border with Texas that includes a major commercial bridge outside of Nuevo Laredo.

Last week, Abbott ordered Department of Public Safety troopers to inspect every commercial truck for illegal drugs and immigrants as they crossed at least four international bridges as a response to the Biden administration’s plan to end Title 42 — a pandemic-era rule by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that allows federal immigration officials to turn away recently arrived migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, including those who are seeking asylum.

Title 42, implemented in March 2020, is meant to be used to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But Republicans have said the rule is still needed to keep order at the border, which they say has been chaotic as a result of the Biden administration’s immigration policies.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, already conducts commercial inspections and has called the state inspections “unnecessary.”

Last month, Campos Galván met with CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar in Washington, D.C. In the meeting, she told them her administration installed cameras with facial recognition and license plate reading technology to monitor vehicles entering Juárez, where drug cartel violence has plagued the city for years. She also said she ordered the move of the police headquarters from the state capital to Juárez.

During the news conference on Thursday in Austin, she said her administration would share intelligence with Abbott’s office over any security issues.

Abbott agreed to halt state troopers’ inspections of commercial cargo at the Laredo-Colombia Solidarity International Bridge after Gov. Samuel Alejandro García Sepúlveda agreed to increase security on the Mexican side of the bridge.

In a news release, Abbott said the agreement with Coahuila is similar to deals with Chihuahua and Nuevo León. According to a statement from Riquelme Solís’ office, his state's police and immigration agents will continue to find migrants before they enter Coahuila and seize illegal drugs.

As part of the agreement, "Texas recognizes that cartel crime rates are very low in Coahuila, due to the security measures implemented," Riquelme Solís’ office said.

The governor of Tamaulipas has also reached out to Abbott seeking meetings to discuss ending the enhanced state inspections.

Abbott said during the news conference earlier Thursday that he plans to meet with the governor of Tamaulipas on Friday.

On Tuesday, governors of Coahuila and Tamaulipas sent a letter to Abbott telling him the inspections are “overzealous” and criticizing his move as political grandstanding, saying, “political points have never been a good recipe to address common challenges or threats.”

The inspections have resulted in hourslong and sometimes dayslong delays for shipments from Mexico, including produce, auto and medical equipment and other items purchased by American companies.

During a Wednesday news conference in Laredo, Abbott celebrated the agreement with Nuevo León, saying, “Sometimes it just takes action like that to spur people sitting down and working things out like the way that they are beginning to work out,” Abbott said.

But a security expert and an official with the Tamaulipas government say the security measures Nuevo León has put in place are only a short-term solution. Drug cartels adapt to whatever security measures both countries implement and eventually find ways to smuggle migrants and drugs, they both said.

The Mexican government also has a culture of corruption, so it’s not unusual for cartels to bribe police or other officials to let loads of drugs and migrants through, said Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy group for human rights in the Americas.

“If you take a place like Nuevo Laredo, the Northeast Cartel pretty much controls everything,” he said. “Just installing a few new roadblocks won’t make much of a difference.”

As an example, he pointed to the arrest last month of Juan Gerardo Treviño-Chavez, also known as El Huevo, the leader of the Northeast Cartel, which triggered gunfights throughout Nuevo Laredo between cartel members and the Mexican military. Cartel members also set 18-wheelers on fire on a key road into the city after his arrest.

On Wednesday in the Rio Grande Valley, news organizations in Mexico reported that members of a drug cartel had set fire to four 18-wheelers near the Pharr-Reynosa bridge. The McAllen newspaper The Monitor reported that drug cartel members set the cargo ablaze to force truckers to end their blockade in protest of Abbott’s added inspections.

“This is the way [drug cartels] put pressure for them to be able to continue … their illegal activities,” said Francisco Galván Garza, who works in the administration of Tamaulipas Gov. Francisco Cabeza de Vaca.

Galván Garza said any agreement between Tamaulipas and Texas will solve the border delays only on the Texas side.

Ultimately, he said, the federal governments of Mexico and the United States need to step up and find a solution to immigration. He said if Tamaulipas heightens its security measures even more, drug cartels will find ways to bypass them.

Cabeza de Vaca “has been putting all his effort on securing the state during his five years in office,” he said. “The state has been more secure, but there’s still a lot of work that has to be done.”


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Gov. Greg Abbott announces deals with two more Mexican governors to halt Texas’ vehicle inspections at the border

By Uriel J. García, The Texas Tribune

"Gov. Greg Abbott announces deals with two more Mexican governors to halt Texas’ vehicle inspections at the border" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced two more deals with Mexican governors that will halt the new commercial vehicle inspections at international bridges that have bogged down border commerce.

Abbott and Chihuahua Gov. María Eugenia Campos Galván announced their agreement Thursday evening. Hours later, Abbott's office announced an agreement with Coahuila Gov. Miguel Ángel Riquelme Solís. Chihuahua has a major border crossing at Ciudad Juárez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso. Coahuila shares international bridges with Del Rio and Eagle Pass.

Abbott said state troopers will continue inspecting every commercial truck entering Texas from Tamaulipas, which shares border crossings with McAllen and Brownsville.

As part of one of the agreements, Chihuahua will continue to implement security measures that Campos Galván started when she came into office in 2021. In a news conference with Abbott in Austin, Campos Galván called the agreement a “win-win situation.” Abbott called Campos Galván’s security plan as “the best border security plan that I’ve seen from any governor from Mexico.”

The two deals came a day after Abbott reached a similar agreement with the governor of Nuevo León, the Mexican state that shares a narrow sliver of border with Texas that includes a major commercial bridge outside of Nuevo Laredo.

Last week, Abbott ordered Department of Public Safety troopers to inspect every commercial truck for illegal drugs and immigrants as they crossed at least four international bridges as a response to the Biden administration’s plan to end Title 42 — a pandemic-era rule by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that allows federal immigration officials to turn away recently arrived migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, including those who are seeking asylum.

Title 42, implemented in March 2020, is meant to be used to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But Republicans have said the rule is still needed to keep order at the border, which they say has been chaotic as a result of the Biden administration’s immigration policies.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, already conducts commercial inspections and has called the state inspections “unnecessary.”

Last month, Campos Galván met with CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar in Washington, D.C. In the meeting, she told them her administration installed cameras with facial recognition and license plate reading technology to monitor vehicles entering Juárez, where drug cartel violence has plagued the city for years. She also said she ordered the move of the police headquarters from the state capital to Juárez.

During the news conference on Thursday in Austin, she said her administration would share intelligence with Abbott’s office over any security issues.

Abbott agreed to halt state troopers’ inspections of commercial cargo at the Laredo-Colombia Solidarity International Bridge after Gov. Samuel Alejandro García Sepúlveda agreed to increase security on the Mexican side of the bridge.

In a news release, Abbott said the agreement with Coahuila is similar to deals with Chihuahua and Nuevo León. According to a statement from Riquelme Solís’ office, his state's police and immigration agents will continue to find migrants before they enter Coahuila and seize illegal drugs.

As part of the agreement, "Texas recognizes that cartel crime rates are very low in Coahuila, due to the security measures implemented," Riquelme Solís’ office said.

The governor of Tamaulipas has also reached out to Abbott seeking meetings to discuss ending the enhanced state inspections.

Abbott said during the news conference earlier Thursday that he plans to meet with the governor of Tamaulipas on Friday.

On Tuesday, governors of Coahuila and Tamaulipas sent a letter to Abbott telling him the inspections are “overzealous” and criticizing his move as political grandstanding, saying, “political points have never been a good recipe to address common challenges or threats.”

The inspections have resulted in hourslong and sometimes dayslong delays for shipments from Mexico, including produce, auto and medical equipment and other items purchased by American companies.

During a Wednesday news conference in Laredo, Abbott celebrated the agreement with Nuevo León, saying, “Sometimes it just takes action like that to spur people sitting down and working things out like the way that they are beginning to work out,” Abbott said.

But a security expert and an official with the Tamaulipas government say the security measures Nuevo León has put in place are only a short-term solution. Drug cartels adapt to whatever security measures both countries implement and eventually find ways to smuggle migrants and drugs, they both said.

The Mexican government also has a culture of corruption, so it’s not unusual for cartels to bribe police or other officials to let loads of drugs and migrants through, said Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy group for human rights in the Americas.

“If you take a place like Nuevo Laredo, the Northeast Cartel pretty much controls everything,” he said. “Just installing a few new roadblocks won’t make much of a difference.”

As an example, he pointed to the arrest last month of Juan Gerardo Treviño-Chavez, also known as El Huevo, the leader of the Northeast Cartel, which triggered gunfights throughout Nuevo Laredo between cartel members and the Mexican military. Cartel members also set 18-wheelers on fire on a key road into the city after his arrest.

On Wednesday in the Rio Grande Valley, news organizations in Mexico reported that members of a drug cartel had set fire to four 18-wheelers near the Pharr-Reynosa bridge. The McAllen newspaper The Monitor reported that drug cartel members set the cargo ablaze to force truckers to end their blockade in protest of Abbott’s added inspections.

“This is the way [drug cartels] put pressure for them to be able to continue … their illegal activities,” said Francisco Galván Garza, who works in the administration of Tamaulipas Gov. Francisco Cabeza de Vaca.

Galván Garza said any agreement between Tamaulipas and Texas will solve the border delays only on the Texas side.

Ultimately, he said, the federal governments of Mexico and the United States need to step up and find a solution to immigration. He said if Tamaulipas heightens its security measures even more, drug cartels will find ways to bypass them.

Cabeza de Vaca “has been putting all his effort on securing the state during his five years in office,” he said. “The state has been more secure, but there’s still a lot of work that has to be done.”

We can’t wait to welcome you in person and online to the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival, our multiday celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day’s news — all taking place just steps away from the Texas Capitol from Sept. 22-24. When tickets go on sale in May, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/04/14/texas-abbott-border-vehicle-inspections-chihuahua/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Chaos grows at Texas-Mexico border after GOP governor forces new inspection policy on truckers

Joel Estebane’s commercial truck had already been inspected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers after crossing the bridge that connects Ciudad Juárez and El Paso on Tuesday afternoon — then he had to wait another hour in another line where Texas state troopers were questioning commercial drivers.

Estebane, who was on his way to pick up office and paper supplies from El Paso to haul to Juárez, said it took six hours to get his truck through El Paso’s port of entry. Troopers had set up a state inspection site next to a condominium complex and the local zoo where they stopped and questioned truck drivers about their cargo.

When it was Estebane’s turn, he said the troopers had already left, but the long line had added hours to his trip. He said it usually takes him between half an hour to an hour to get across the bridge.

“This disrupted my day,” Estebane said as he waited outside a warehouse while his truck was being loaded. “This is affecting firms on both Mexico and the U.S. side.”

Near the other end of Texas’ roughly 1,200-mile border with Mexico, in the Rio Grande Valley, no commercial vehicles crossed the busiest bridge in the region at all on Tuesday because for the second straight day, truckers on the Mexico side of the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge blocked all north- and southbound lanes in protest of Gov. Greg Abbott’s move to have state troopers inspect northbound commercial vehicles after they have already been searched by federal officers.

Normally, 3,000 commercial trucks cross the Pharr bridge each day, hauling about $60 million to $70 million worth of daily goods and services through the busiest land crossing for produce entering the U.S. from Mexico.

The ripple effects of Abbott’s decision last week to order the Texas Department of Public Safety to increase its inspections of commercial vehicles have been swift up and down the Texas-Mexico border. Abbott’s decision was a response to the Biden administration’s recent announcement that it plans to end Title 42 — a pandemic-era emergency health order that lets federal officials turn away migrants at the border without the chance to request asylum.

Increasing inspections of commercial vehicles, Abbott said, would disrupt drug cartels’ use of commercial trucks to smuggle humans and drugs into the U.S.

But six days into the new Texas initiative, it’s unclear how thoroughly the DPS is inspecting commercial vehicles — and whether state troopers are even opening up trucks’ cargo areas to look inside. It is also unclear whether the DPS has seized any drugs or encountered any undocumented migrants through the new program. The agency did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Typically when a commercial truck crosses from Mexico into the U.S., Mexican authorities first clear the driver’s paperwork before U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers inspect the vehicle on the other side of the international bridge — using an array of tools designed to spot hidden people and illegal drugs.

Gil Kerlikowske, former commissioner of CBP from 2014 to 2017, said the controlled areas where U.S. agents work at the bridges are “a Constitution-free zone, as the ACLU used to tell me. CBP has this complete right to completely search vehicles, including taking them apart.

“The number of K-9 [dogs] they have to look for drugs, the X-ray machines, they got really good at this — you’ll see them be able to tap the sides of cars, panels of vehicles and locate whether there’s a false panel or something’s been concealed,” Kerlikowske added.

At the larger commercial ports of entry, there are usually other federal agencies on hand to do specialized inspections, such as the Department of Transportation or Food and Drug Administration to help make sure vehicles and products meet U.S. standards. Then, some trucks are stopped at a state-owned facility to make sure their vehicle is safe to drive in Texas — or an “audit,” as some people in the cross-border trade industry have called the DPS checks.

“Normally, DPS inspection has to do with safety of the trucks, making sure they have proper equipment, the right tires, following the rules here,” said Ernesto Gaytán, chair of the Texas Trucking Association.

But never before has DPS checked every commercial vehicle entering Texas from Mexico, according to interviews with veterans of the cross-border trade industry.

“In my 25 years in the trucking industry, DPS has never done audits of 100% of the trucks. That's unheard of,” said Leopoldo Chow, who owns trucking carriers in the U.S. and Mexico and is an adviser to CANACAR, Mexico’s national trucking association. “If you were going to do the same audit of trucks between Austin and Dallas on I-35, you would have trucks sitting from Austin to Dallas. It's just not feasible.”

The delays at the bridges triggered by the DPS inspections have led to a 60% drop in commercial traffic at the Texas-Mexico border in just a matter of days since Abbott’s initiative started, according to CBP.

“The longer than average wait times – and the subsequent supply chain disruptions – are unrelated to CBP screening activities and are due to additional and unnecessary inspections being conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) at the order of the Governor of Texas,” CBP said in a written statement.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who was sworn into office in 2019 at the Pharr bridge to help ring in that year’s produce season, piled on criticism of Abbott’s new policy.

Miller said Abbott should “cease his truck inspection project,” and that the “inspection program is turning a crisis into a catastrophe.”

Mexico’s Department of Foreign Affairs condemned Abbott’s order for additional inspections in a statement released Tuesday. The statement also said Mexican government officials have begun conversations with the U.S. government and Abbott’s office “to fully restore trade and identify alternatives that guarantee security on our shared border without harming binational trade.”

“The Department of Foreign Affairs rejects this state measure that significantly harms the flow of trade between our two countries,” the statement said. “As an inevitable consequence of this provision, businesses in Mexico and the United States are losing competitiveness and significant revenues.”

Truckers typically cross multiple truck loads per day, driving goods from Mexican border towns into U.S. border towns, where they can be picked up by a different truck that hauls the load to its final destination. The Mexican truckers then usually turn around and return to Mexico to pick up another load of goods.

In Ciudad Juárez, Antonio Ramos, who has transported gasoline across the border for two and half years, said Tuesday afternoon that he had been waiting to cross another El Paso-Juárez bridge for 36 hours. The average wait time at that port of entry is 23 minutes, according to CBP’s website.

Truckers blocking the Mexico side of the bridge in protest of Abbott’s new program have prevented Ramos and hundreds of other commercial vehicles from crossing.

Pedro Avendaño said he had been in the same long line since 2 p.m. Monday to cross into El Paso to pick up medical products and supplies. He said he understands the governor has to be on top of security issues, but the new inspections are affecting people’s livelihoods.

“They just need to let us [the truckers] work,” Avendaño said as he leaned against his 18-wheeler Tuesday afternoon in Juárez. “We have nothing to do with whatever the state is trying to do. And this is affecting not just our economy but their economy, too.”

Oscar Gutierrez, who got his 18-wheeler in line at 9 a.m. Tuesday to haul ladders to El Paso, said the truckers’ protest is inconvenient but it’s needed because Mexican truckers don’t get paid enough to go through additional inspections. The truckers need to send a message, he said.

“They need to stop being even stricter,” he said. “[CBP] were already doing inspections before all this and there were no issues.”

We can’t wait to welcome you in person and online to the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival, our multiday celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day’s news — all taking place just steps away from the Texas Capitol from Sept. 22-24. When tickets go on sale in May, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.

Trump appointees are helping Texas derail Biden’s agenda

On President Joe Biden's first day in office, he announced a moratorium placing a hundred-day pause on deportations for some undocumented immigrants.

By the end of that week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed the first of what would become a string of lawsuits against the Biden administration, claiming the moratorium was illegal.

U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton, a Trump appointee in Corpus Christi, issued an injunction, ruling the Biden moratorium violated federal administrative procedure. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed without the moratorium going into effect.

And on March 4, Paxton got another win when a different Trump appointee in Fort Worth ruled the Biden administration can’t exempt unaccompanied child migrants from being expelled from the country under Title 42, a pandemic health order issued in March 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to rapidly expel migrants at the border without allowing them to apply for asylum.

In the first 14 months of Biden's presidency, no state has done more than Texas to challenge his immigration agenda in court. And most of its cases — and victories — have played out in Texas courts with judges appointed by former President Donald Trump, who appointed 226 federal judges while in office, a number the former president has bragged about.

Paxton’s office has told state lawmakers that it would like to challenge a fundamental tenet of immigration law before the U.S. Supreme Court, which now has a trio of Trump appointees.

Texas has filed 20 lawsuits in Texas-based federal courts, most of them led by Paxton, against the new administration over everything from federal mask mandates to halting the long-disputed Keystone XL pipeline. Trump-appointed judges have heard 16 of the cases and ruled in favor of Texas in seven — the other nine are pending.

“General Paxton is very proud of this level of accomplishment,” said Alejandro Garcia, Paxton’s spokesperson.

Paxton’s office has also sued the administration in Washington, D.C., federal courts and joined lawsuits led by attorneys general in other states.

The state’s favorite target has been Biden’s immigration policies, which have sparked seven of the 20 lawsuits in Texas courts. Paxton filed six of those lawsuits, while state Land Commissioner George P. Bush — who challenged Paxton in the GOP primary for attorney general and will face him in a May runoff — filed one that claims that the Biden administration illegally halted border wall spending.

So far, Paxton has been successful in stopping or altering Biden’s immigration policies in four of those cases, including one of the most consequential ones: forcing the Biden administration to reverse course and resume the Migrant Protection Protocols, a Trump-era policy also known as “remain in Mexico” that makes asylum-seekers wait in Mexico as their legal cases go through U.S. immigration courts.

In Paxton’s fourth case, Tipton issued an injunction in August halting two memos from the Biden administration directing immigration agents to prioritize arresting immigrants who have felonies, ties to gangs or pose a risk to public safety. Tipton said the memos violated federal law because the federal government has to deport every undocumented immigrant.

“They're finding any little loophole to just make it more difficult for Biden to be able to follow through on his promises that he made during his campaign,” said Marysol Castro, an immigration lawyer with Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services who provides legal representation to asylum-seekers in El Paso.

Paxton says his office is forcing the Biden administration to comply with the Constitution. He has said Biden’s immigration policies are putting Texans in danger because they lead to drug and human smuggling and are costing taxpayers money to provide social services and public education to migrants.

“We have a continuing fight with the Biden administration with the hope that as time goes on, we will force our president … to do what he's supposed to do under the Constitution,” Paxton said last week during a news conference in Weslaco.

Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, said through its lawsuits, Texas is undercutting the federal government’s power to set national immigration policies.

Vladeck said Paxton’s office appears to be “judge shopping” to boost its chances of success.

“I think the real sort of negative long-term problem here is not the implications for any particular immigration policy, but rather the notion that immigration policy is going to be set by whichever district judge gets their hands on it first,” he said. “That's especially problematic when the district judge is being hand-picked by the plaintiff.”

Paxton isn’t the first state official to turn to the courts to fight presidential policies.

Then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sued the Obama administration about two dozen times, saying in 2012 his job was simple: "I go the office. I sue the federal government. Then I go home."

During Trump’s four years, California’s attorney general sued his administration 110 times over immigration, environmental policies, consumer rights and other issues. California had an 82% success rate as of Jan. 22, 2021, according to the news organization Cal Matters.

Vladeck said a key difference is that California sued in courts where any number of judges could end up ruling on a case. According to Vladeck’s analysis, Texas lawsuits have been filed mostly in courts where one judge hears more than 75% of the cases, increasing the chances of a Trump appointee taking the case.

Garcia, Paxton’s spokesperson, rejected the idea that his office is judge shopping. He said they are suing “everywhere we have a legal right to sue.”

“The [attorney general’s] office has an extraordinarily high win rate,” Garcia said. “That’s a testament not only to the quality of General Paxton’s legal team and lawsuits, but also the flagrant illegality of this administration; when they’re pressed in court, they lose.”

Conflicting rulings in Title 42 cases

The legal fight over Title 42 is an example of how Texas has used the courts to set a national agenda, Vladeck and immigrant rights advocates said.

The Trump administration began to use Title 42 in March 2020 to expel asylum-seeking migrants as a way to contain the coronavirus. Immigration officials have expelled 1.6 million migrants under the health order, including 16,000 unaccompanied children expelled during the Trump administration before the Biden administration temporarily exempted them.

Paxton’s office filed a lawsuit in April 2021 asking a judge to block the Biden administration from exempting unaccompanied minors, arguing that allowing them to claim asylum and remain in the U.S. puts a financial burden on Texas.

U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman agreed in his March 4 ruling, saying children can still spread “whatever viruses they are carrying” to American citizens and officers who encounter them.

“Win for Texas & children — loss for Biden & cartels!” Paxton cheered on Twitter, adding that exempting unaccompanied minors also encouraged human smuggling.

Pittman’s ruling came hours after a federal appellate court in Washington, D.C., reaffirmed a lower court’s ruling in a separate case that it’s illegal to expel asylum-seeking migrant families to countries where they could be persecuted or tortured.

Immigrant rights advocates cheered the appellate court’s decision because it would result in fewer families being expelled from the U.S. But the dueling rulings created confusion about the program’s future.

The appellate court ruling most likely won’t go into effect until next month, while Pittman’s ruling went into effect on Friday. On Saturday, the CDC’s director announced that the agency had updated its order to permanently terminate the government's ability to expel unaccompanied children using Title 42 because of increased vaccination rates in the U.S. and in the home countries of the migrant children and a decrease in coronavirus cases nationwide.

“Texas officials are creating chaos and uncertainty on the border with their lawsuits,” said Laura Peña, a legal director at the Texas Civil Rights Project. “It's mind-boggling to think that Texas officials would want to put children into harm's way by either expelling them to Mexico or sending them on planes alone to their home countries.”

The rulings renewed national pressure on the Biden administration from lawmakers and immigrant rights advocates to end the use of Title 42, saying the practice has made asylum-seeking migrants suffer unnecessarily after fleeing dangerous situations in their home countries.

But even if Biden were to end Title 42, “someone's going to litigate, and most likely someone from Texas,” said Castro, the immigration lawyer in El Paso.

Paxton’s office wants a U.S. Supreme Court challenge

In addition to trying to reverse Biden’s agenda, Paxton’s office has indicated that it wants to undo a more fundamental part of U.S. law — particularly court rulings that say the federal government has the sole authority over enforcement of immigration laws.

Texas has spent billions of dollars on border security efforts since Barack Obama’s administration, and Gov. Greg Abbott has increased the state’s presence on the border since Biden won the presidency — sending National Guard soldiers and state troopers to the border and using state money and some private donations to build border barriers.

When Arizona passed a state law in 2010 that allowed police officers to arrest people if they couldn’t provide documentation showing legal presence in the country, the Obama administration sued the state, claiming immigration laws could be enforced only by the federal government. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-3 decision that local police didn’t have the authority to arrest someone based on their immigration status.

During a state Senate committee meeting on border security last week, Texas Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster told the senators that Paxton’s office does not agree with the ruling and would “welcome laws” that would spark a court challenge “because the makeup of the Supreme Court has changed.”

In his lone term, Trump appointed three Supreme Court justices — the most by any president since Ronald Reagan, who appointed four during his two terms.

“We ask for you guys to consider laws that might enable us to go and challenge that [Supreme Court] ruling again,” Webster added.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/03/15/texas-paxton-immigration-biden-trump/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.