A legal group representing Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley on Thursday praised a court decision halting Texas’ restrictions of Catholic ministry to migrants.
In July, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), a Catholic, issued an executive order restricting transportation of migrants in the state to law enforcement due to the the pandemic. Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley protested the order, saying that the state was blocking an essential part of its ministry to migrants near the U.S.-Mexico border.
On Thursday, federal district court Judge Kathleen Cardone granted a preliminary injunction on the state’s order, halting it from going into effect.
“The Governor should never have stood between the Church and suffering souls,” said Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
Catholic Charities receives migrants at its humanitarian respite center in the border town of McAllen, Texas, after the migrants are released by U.S. border agents. The agency says it provides COVID-19 testing of all migrants, and transports COVID-positive migrants to local hotels for quarantine, at its own expense.
“We are glad that the Court’s ruling means that the Respite Center and Sister [Norma] Pimentel are able to continue their work of providing food, water, and shelter in Jesus’ name,” Rassbach stated on Thursday. Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities Rio Grande Valley, was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People for 2020 for her work with migrants.
Abbott’s order directed law enforcement to “stop any vehicle upon reasonable suspicion” it was carrying migrants, and authorized officers to impound vehicles in violation.
On Thursday afternoon, Abbott’s personal Twitter account stated, “I’ll continue to take every step consistent with the law to secure the border & keep Texans safe.”
According to Catholic Charities in its amicus brief, state officials told the agency that law enforcement would be stationed outside the respite center in McAllen to ensure staff would not be transporting migrants.
Catholic Charities further argued that it had already taken precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Judge Cardone on Thursday stated that Abbott’s order “seems to do little to protect public health despite its purported motivations.”
“Texas presents no evidence that noncitizens entering the United States at the border pose a particular health risk such that restricting their transportation would improve health and safety,” Judge Cardone said.
“And Texas’ single anecdotal example of noncitizens posing a public health risk—a migrant family apparently coughing without wearing masks in a restaurant—is not sufficient evidence that the Order will be effective in combating COVID-19 in Texas,” Judge Cardone wrote.