Claiming that some nongovernmental organizations might be assisting migrants to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border, Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to launch an investigation. Immigration advocates, however, suggest Abbott’s claims are made up.
Specifically, Abbott is asking Paxton to investigate whether NGOs are “planning and facilitating the illegal transportation of illegal immigrants across our borders.”
“There have been recent reports that non-governmental organizations may have assisted in illegal border crossing near El Paso,” Abbott wrote in a letter to Paxton. “We further understand NGOs may be engaged in unlawfully orchestrating other border crossings through activities on both sides of the border, including in sectors other than El Paso.”
In response to a Statesman request seeking information on Abbott’s claims, the governor’s office pointed to a Fox News report referenced in the news release announcing the probe that stated more than 2,600 migrants crossed into the country illegally near El Paso over a 24-hour period just over a week ago.
Cori Hash, a legal director and immigration attorney with the law firm Lincoln-Goldfinch in Austin, said she interprets the investigation request to mean the governor believes nonprofits are helping people to break the law.
“But that is absolutely not true from any nonprofit organization that I know of, or that does legal service work,” Hash said. “Advising someone on what the law says, what they can and cannot do under the law, is not breaking the law; that’s providing legal advice that as lawyers we’re allowed to do.”
Pointing out that NGOs are bound by federal law and are not involved in the actual transportation of immigrants across the border, and noting an additional inquiry by Paxton into three organizations and their relationship with work on the border after receiving money from the Texas Bar Foundation, Hash chalked up Wednesday’s announcement to politics.
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“So I think that accusation is false and made up. I’ve never heard of and am not aware of any volunteers or nonprofits providing that kind of transportation,” Hash said. “And so again, I think this is very much a political stunt. And not based on what’s happening or what attorneys and legal organizations are allowed to do at all.”
Paxton’s office accepted Abbott’s investigation request and announced it will begin looking into and taking action against organizations that are found to be violating the law.
‘Humanitarian care is provided legally’
Meanwhile, members of Texas’ congressional delegation are increasingly skeptical of NGOs working within immigration, as a Wednesday letter accused Catholic Charities, the humanitarian arm of the U.S. Catholic Church, and other NGOs of gaining a “profit off of exploiting our immigration laws.”
The lawmakers’ letter, signed by Texas Reps. Lance Gooden, R-Terrell, and Jake Ellzey, R-Waxahachie, asked that Catholic Charites preserve all documents related to financial expenditures tied to federal reimbursements with a threat of a subpoena and further investigation in the new year.
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“The Biden Administration is circumventing the security and safety standards federal agencies must uphold by allowing NGOs to harbor, transport, and encourage unauthorized aliens to resettle in the United States,” the representatives wrote. “Catholic Charities is violating federal law and regulation, placing migrants and American communities at risk.”
Putting the responsibility for controlling immigration back squarely on the federal government’s shoulders, Catholic Charities responded in a letter denying any wrongdoing alleged by House Republicans.
“These accusations are both fallacious and factually inaccurate. Our life-saving humanitarian work neither violates federal laws nor endangers communities,” says a response letter from the charities’ Immigration and Refugee Services.
“Our humanitarian care (food, clean clothes, bathing facilities, overnight respite) is provided legally,” it said. “It typically begins after an asylum-seeker has been processed and released by the federal government. Both U.S. and international law provide for the right to seek asylum at another country’s border.”
According to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, there have been nearly 2.4 million encounters on the southern border in 2022, compared to more than 1.7 million in 2021.
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For both investigations into NGOs working on the border, the requests come as Title 42, a public health rule that has been used to stem the flow of immigration since the outset of the pandemic in 2020, is set to expire Wednesday after a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled earlier this month that the policy was issued illegally.
Nineteen states, including Texas, filed an emergency request last week asking that the rule remain in place for the Department of Homeland Security through the appeals process. However, the Circuit Court denied the request Friday, which led Paxton to petition the Supreme Court on Monday for further review.
“Economic and political instability around the world is fueling the highest levels of migration since World War II, including throughout the Western Hemisphere,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said. “The Title 42 public health order remains in place through December 20, 2022, and until then, DHS will continue to expel single adults and families encountered at the southwest border under that authority.”
If and when the rule expires, Mayorkas said DHS will process individuals at the border without proper travel documents and provide “meaningful consequences,” which include barring individuals who are removed from reentry for five years and expediting removal and repatriation processes.
“Nonetheless, we know that smugglers will spread misinformation to take advantage of vulnerable migrants. Let me be clear: Title 42 or not, those unable to establish a legal basis to remain in the United States will be removed,” Mayorkas said.
Many immigrants seeking refuge across the southern border, however, will continue to wait in Mexico, as the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on Thursday issued a stay of a Trump-era rule mandating that immigrants “remain in Mexico” through the immigration process.
“The court made the right decision here in protecting Remain-in-Mexico, and I look forward to fighting to make sure the program is secured indefinitely,” Paxton said in a statement Friday.