The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for an investigation into Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s policy of transporting migrants back to the border

The American Civil Liberties Union is calling on the federal government to stop cooperating with Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order authorizing state troops to ship migrants back to ports of entry at the border – escalating a debate over the state’s power to enforce immigration laws.

The video above is from a previous story.

The call from the ACLU Texas and the group’s national leadership for the Biden administration to investigate the state’s latest immigration policy comes a week after The Texas Tribune reported on state police officers bringing suspected migrants to the port of entry in Eagle Pass and turning them over federal immigration authority. Abbott had approved the practice in an executive order July 7, but provided little clarity on how the migrants will be transported and under what authority they will be held. Enforcing immigration laws is the federal responsibility, but Abbott’s order takes unprecedented steps that interfere with that agency.

Local law enforcement agencies have previously turned over migrants in their custody at the request of federal immigration officials. But they have traditionally kept them in places where the immigrants were already, like a prison or a detention center. Abbott’s order authorizes Texas Department of Public Safety officials to drive migrants to ports of entry at the border, where immigration officials can more easily process immigrants.

SEE RELATED STORY: ‘New York City is the ideal destination for these migrants:’ Texas brings Mexicans to the East Coast

The ACLU on Monday called for an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. The ACLU asked the agency to: monitor the Eagle Pass port of entry to ensure federal agents are acting appropriately; Collect and publish data on the alleged state agency for the transfer of persons from Texas DPS to federal immigration authorities; Identify gaps in U.S. Customs and Border Protection policies related to this practice and make appropriate recommendations; and take all reasonable steps to identify and remedy civil rights violations that may occur as a result of Abbott’s order.

The civil rights group also called on the federal government to stop detaining migrants being transported by state agencies.

“DHS should refuse to detain individuals in these circumstances and should prevent Texas state and local officials from detaining individuals on federal property pursuant to Governor Abbott’s order,” the ACLU attorneys wrote in a letter to the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

The letter cites the Tribune’s reporting of the transfer of migrants from state to federal custody, noting that the migrants are transported in a Texas Department of Criminal Justice bus to a commercial vehicle inspection site near the port of entry and that migrants are made to wait there for a truck -Port until border guards arrive to pick them up. In one case observed by the Tribune, migrants waited nearly three hours before federal agents came to pick them up.

The civil rights group said the commercial vehicle inspection agency “appears to be the CBP-US Customs and Commerce entrance,” which is owned by the federal government. The Tribune has not been able to independently confirm this, but the transfer of migrants by state agencies to federal government ownership would provide a clearer legal argument that state agencies are involved in immigration enforcement.

The ACLU said in its letter that state officials’ unilateral arrest and transportation of migrants on immigration grounds and state officials’ detention of migrants on federal property “raise serious legal concerns — including violations of CBP standards of detention and protections against discriminatory treatment.”

Federal immigration authorities have national standards for the transportation, escorting, detention and search of suspected migrants, including the types of vehicles to be used to transport migrants, the conditions of detention and the conduct of officers. Texas DPS officers are not held to the same standards.

“This inequality can result in migrants being held on federal property in conditions that are inconsistent with the [standards] and that can be dangerous,” the ACLU wrote in its letter.

Noting a DHS inspector general’s finding earlier this year that a CBP outdoor holding area failed to meet temperature requirements set by federal standards, the ACLU said keeping migrants outdoors for three hours posed a risk of heat exhaustion, the Tribune reported represents and heat stroke.

The group was also concerned about high-risk groups, such as pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities, who are at higher risk of heat-related illnesses. Federal agents are trained in how to take care of these groups, the letter said, but DPS officials are not.

“Put simply, migrants are being held in violation of federal property [federal standards] and under potentially dangerous conditions,” the group’s letter said.

The group also said there was significant evidence that Abbott’s border security mission, dubbed Operation Lone Star, engaged in “systemic discrimination against Black and Brown migrants and Latinx individuals in South Texas” because their traffic stops “show clear indicia of racial profiling.” The group said the state is also targeting black and brown migrants to arrest and punish them more severely in a “separate criminal system under Governor Abbott’s discriminatory ‘catch-and-jail’ system.”

The ACLU and other groups have filed complaints with the US Department of Justice over alleged civil rights violations by Operation Lone Star, and the civil rights group warned that the federal government could be accused of engaging in discriminatory practices if it continues to cooperate with the state operation.

“DHS should decline any involvement in the DPS’s immigration efforts in South Texas — including Gov. Abbott’s July 7 executive order — to ensure that it has no involvement with the agency’s discriminatory actions,” the letter reads. “Federal funds cannot promote discrimination based on race or national origin.”

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that educates and collaborates with Texans on public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for an investigation into Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s policy of transporting migrants back to the border

Dais Johnston

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