Top LULAC attorney says Abbott's order to pull over migrants will soon result in racial profiling suits

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference. - Courtesy Photo / Office of the Governor
Courtesy Photo / Office of the Governor
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference.
Texas will soon face lawsuits over Gov. Greg Abbott's order that state troopers should pull over vehicles whose drivers they suspect of transporting migrants who pose a risk of transmitting COVID-19, a top civil-rights attorney said.

The order, issued Wednesday amid a flurry of hardline immigration moves by Abbott, is unconstitutional because it promotes racial profiling, said Eric Cedillo, national legal advisor to the League of United Latin American Citizens.

LULAC is already discussing legal action against Texas, Cedillo said, adding that the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the ACLU are also likely mulling suits. MALDEF officials didn't respond to a request for comment, and an ACLU spokesman would only say the organization is "exploring all options."

"I'm absolutely certain that within the next 48 hours an organization will file a lawsuit to establish that the order is unconstitutional," Cedillo said.

Abbott's office also didn't respond to the Current's request for comment.

The Republican governor's order requests that Department of Public Safety troopers turn vehicles back to their place of origin or a port of entry. It also permits troopers to seize the cars of drivers who don't comply.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Abbott said the measure is needed to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the state.

However, Cedillo said the order expects DPS personnel to racially profile drivers and passengers. He's also concerned troopers may wait near federal immigration facilities to turn back people pursuing legitimate asylum cases.

"I'm not sure how you make the distinction on who to pull over other than they're brown," Cedillo said.

What's more, Cedillo said the governor will face long odds defending his use of the COVID-19 crisis as cover for his order.

Abbott has repeatedly said he opposes new COVID-fighting mandates such as mask mandates, even as hospitalizations across the state hit 5,000 for the first time in nearly five months. That rhetoric has come as Abbott faces primary challenges from a pair of hard-right candidates who have accused him of imposing too many rules during the pandemic.

"It's the height of hypocrisy," Cedillo said of Abbott's stance.

Although MALDEF and the ACLU didn't confirm plans to pursue legal action, the ACLU of Texas posted an online statement blasting Abbott's order as his latest effort to "make Texas an anti-immigrant police state."

Earlier this year, Abbott pledged to spend $250 million in Texas taxpayer funds to resurrect Donald Trump's border wall and took a photo op with the former president. The governor also drawn criticism for falsely claiming that rising immigration rates have caused "carnage" in border communities.

"The [new order] continues a long, racist history of placing blame for the spread of disease onto immigrants and communities at the border," ACLU of Texas Attorney Kate Huddleston said. "There is no reason for the governor to halt travel in the state of Texas other than to terrorize these communities and distract from his own leadership failures.”

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.


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