El Paso's federal courthouse.

An El Paso federal judge on Tuesday granted a temporary restraining order to block a Texas executive order restricting the transportation of migrants. 

United States District Judge Kathleen Cardone’s ruling found that the Texas measure conflicts with federal immigration law and violates the supremacy clause of the U.S. constitution.

Presented by Texas Governor Greg Abbott as a method of addressing the spread of COVID-19 by migrants in the state of Texas, the executive order ordered the Texas Department of Public Safety to stop non-governmental vehicles suspected of transporting migrants and gave DPS the authority to impound vehicles in violation of the order.

Prior to Cardone’s ruling, the U.S. Justice Department issued written arguments Tuesday afternoon arguing that the restraining order against the Texas executive order should be granted. “Texas points to no data whatsoever that noncitizens released from (Customs and Border Protection) custody have a higher rate of COVID-19 than other travelers. And even if Texas were trying to protect the public health, it cannot do so by regulating federal immigration policies and practices,” the filing said.

Abbott issued a statement late Tuesday calling Cardone’s order “temporary and based on limited evidence.”

“The Biden administration has knowingly — and willfully — released COVID-19 positive migrants into Texas communities, risking the potential exposure and infection of Texas residents,” the statement said.

Critics of the governor’s executive order celebrated the ruling, including state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso.

Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights in El paso, said he applauded the judge’s decision.

“We know that this was clearly part of Gov. Abbott’s ongoing anti-immigrant agenda,” he said. “His policies and rhetoric mistreat immigrants and falsely portray them as a danger to our communities — all while Gov. Abbott himself continues to flout all recommended practices and protocols to reduce the spread of COVID in Texas.”

At a hearing Monday, attorneys for the Justice Department argued that the order would cause further spread of COVID-19 by causing more migrants to be held in congregate settings due to transportation blockages. They said it amounted to state-run immigration policy, thereby impeding the federal government’s ability to carry out immigration policy within Texas. 

Lawyers for the state of Texas said the executive order was needed to concurrent crises in the state: that of COVID-19, and that of migrants crossing the border. 

“COVID is a very serious disease,” said attorney Will Thompson, speaking on behalf of the state of Texas in the federal court hearing Monday afternoon. “Somebody has to do something about it.”

In Tuesday’s written arguments, which were a response to written arguments a day earlier from the state’s lawyers, the Justice Department said “the executive order does virtually nothing to advance its supposed goal of protecting the public from the threat of COVID-19.”  The Biden administration attorneys also noted that “the day after Governor Abbott signed the executive order at issue in this case, he prohibited local governments, schools, and many private businesses from taking basic precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

On Monday afternoon, Hidalgo County and the city of McAllen issued disaster declarations linked to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and number of migrants crossing the border into south Texas. 

In El Paso, local advocates and leaders said Monday that the looming executive order was already causing uncertainty and chaos. 

The temporary restraining order granted Tuesday will remain in effect until August 13 unless it is extended; on that date there will be an additional hearing in the El Paso courthouse for a preliminary injunction. 

René Kladzyk is a freelance reporter who also performs music as Ziemba. Follow her on Twitter @ziembavision.