FIRST ON FOX: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Thursday sued the Biden administration for allegedly encouraging the spread of COVID-19 at the border by allowing large numbers of migrants into the U.S., often into overcrowded facilities.
"President Biden’s outright disregard of the public health crisis in Texas by welcoming and encouraging mass gatherings of illegal aliens is hypocritical and dangerous. This reckless policy change stifles the reopening of the Texas economy at a time when businesses need it the most and when our children need to get back to in-person learning as soon as possible," Paxton said in a statement announcing the legal challenge.
The Biden administration has been facing a spike in migrant encounters at the border, particularly in Texas. Shocking images have emerged of overcrowded facilities in places like Donna, Texas, where migrants were pictures packed together side-by-side, often without masks. Texas officials have also protested about instances where COVID-positive migrants were released into the U.S.
Critics have accused Biden of inflaming the situation by rolling back Trump-era border protections like the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) and not applying Title 42 public health protections to unaccompanied children -- whose numbers have increased rapidly in recent months. They say that has encouraged migrants to make the treacherous journey north and indicated to migrants that the border is open.
The administration has pushed back, saying the border is closed while blaming "root causes" in Central America and accusing the Trump administration of dismantling legal asylum pathways at the border.
The complaint accuses the administration of having "hastily and unlawfully departed from their own rules for large numbers of illegal aliens and created an undeniable crisis on our southern border.
"Instead of using the CDC’s authority to prevent the introduction of covered aliens into the United States during a pandemic, Defendants have chosen to take courses of action that have resulted in the release of tens of thousands of aliens into Texas and the United States," the lawsuit says. "Absent this Court’s intervention, such releases will continue for the foreseeable future."
It cites the administration’s moves not to apply Title 42 -- a Trump-era order that allows Border Patrol to quickly expel migrants, often within hours -- to unaccompanied children and some migrant families.
The complaint also accuses the administration of failing to enforce a longstanding federal law requiring that immigrants be detained if they transmit disease of public health significance -- found in the Immigration and Nationality Act. It says that the administration allowing migrants in the country in such large numbers "results in significant harms to Texas and its citizens."
"More Texans will be exposed to COVID-19, more Texans will contract COVID-19, more Texans will die from COVID-19, and Texas will incur significant costs in terms of healthcare and law enforcement resources," it says.
Paxton’s office is working with America First Legal, which will serve as outside counsel in the lawsuit. The group was formed by former senior White House adviser Stephen Miller as a counterweight to the left-wing American Civil Liberties Union and to push back against unlawful or overreaching federal policies.
"We are deeply honored to work alongside the State of Texas to protect the health and safety of all Texans and Americans against the outrageous, illegal conduct of the Biden Administration," Miller said in a statement.
"The Biden Administration is flagrantly and egregiously violating federal law, its own public health rules, the Administrative Procedure Act, and Title 42. By releasing unvaccinated and potentially coronavirus-infected aliens en masse into the country -- aliens who have been smuggled and housed in extremely unsanitary conditions -- the Biden administration is sabotaging the public health of Texans and all Americans," he said.
Miller said the Biden administration’s policies have led to overwhelmed hospitals, depleted health resources, and a delay in reaching immunity thresholds.
Texas also retained the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) to represent the state in the suit.
"To reopen our country and restart our economy, we need the pandemic to get better, not worse," said Christopher Hajec, director of litigation for IRLI. "But amazingly, the administration did not even consider the economic effects of its actions on Texas or anywhere else. That disregard of a highly relevant factor shows the administration’s recklessness—and it is also, in and of itself, a violation of law."
It’s one of a number of legal challenges launched by Paxton. He scored an early win against the administration when he won a lawsuit challenging a proposed 100-day moratorium on most deportations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). That resulted in the policy being blocked, although the Biden administration has since issued renewed interior enforcement guidelines that narrow the types of illegal immigrants who can be targeted for arrest and deportation.
Recently his office joined with Missouri in suing the Biden administration over its decision to end the Migrant Protection Protocols, known as the Remain-in-Mexico policy, which kept migrants in Mexico for the duration of their hearings.
Meanwhile, Texas and Louisiana both sued the Department of Homeland Security earlier this month for its alleged refusal to take criminal illegal immigrants into custody, after rules that narrowed enforcement priorities.