ACLU warns counties to stay away from the Abbott wall

From the inbox:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas sent letters today to 34 counties informing top officials that implementing Gov. Greg Abbott’s unlawful plan to engage in immigration enforcement would violate the U.S. Constitution.

The letters, sent to the counties targeted by Abbott, advise against local law enforcement participation in Abbott’s unilateral efforts to set federal immigration policy, arrest and detain immigrants, and deter people from seeking protection in the United States. Noncitizens in the U.S. have the legal right to seek asylum and other protections. Arresting and detaining immigrants due to their immigration status or as a result of enforcing or altering federal immigration law is unconstitutional.

“Gov. Abbott cannot seek to enforce his own version of immigration policy,” said Kate Huddleston, attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “County officials will be in violation of the law if they enforce the governor’s plan. The federal government, not states or local governments, sets immigration policy and enforces immigration law. Yet again, the governor is targeting immigrants and inciting fear and xenophobia in our state. These moves are a cruel distraction from the real problems facing the state, such as fixing the failing state electrical grid.”

The letters also request under the Texas Public Information Act information about guidance that local officials have received from the state, as well as local cooperation with state efforts to arrest immigrants to date, including any arrests or prosecutions by their locality.

In addition, the letters advise localities to train local law enforcement officers to ensure they do not violate the Constitution or federal law when interacting with immigrants. The ACLU of Texas is asking agencies to adopt policies that comply with constitutional policing and limitations on immigration enforcement, including training officers to refrain from making stops based on perceived immigration status, race, ethnicity, or language.

The 34 counties that received the letter are: Brewster, Brooks, Cameron, Crockett, Culberson, Dimmit, Duval, Edwards, El Paso, Goliad, Gonzales, Hidalgo, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Jim Hogg, Kenedy, Kinney, La Salle, Lavaca, Maverick, McMullen, Pecos, Presidio, Real, Reeves, Starr, Sutton, Terrell, Uvalde, Val Verde, Webb, Willacy, Zapata, and Zavala.

See here and here for the background. A copy of the letter is here. It seems clear that this is a precursor to a lawsuit, serving both as a warning to the counties that if they follow along with Abbott’s folly they will be named in the suit as well, plus an early effort to gather evidence. The Public Information Act request in this letter specifically asks for the following:

1. Any and all records regarding the May 31, 2021 disaster declaration and its implementation;

2. Any and all records regarding Operation Lone Star and its implementation;

3. Any and all records regarding your locality’s participation in or cooperation with Texas Department of Public Safety officials engaged in Operation Lone Star or any other immigration enforcement efforts; and

4. Any and all records regarding arrests and/or prosecutions pursuant to Operation Lone Star, the May 31 disaster declaration, or for immigration-related enforcement purposes by your locality from March 6, 2021, to the present, including but not limited to arrests and prosecutions for criminal trespass, smuggling, or human trafficking.

We’re unlikely to get any of that information from Greg Abbott, so no matter what else happens this should be valuable.

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10 Responses to ACLU warns counties to stay away from the Abbott wall

  1. Manny says:

    Proudly an ACLU contributor.

  2. Jason Hochman says:

    There is not much that can be done when you have a president who supports family separation and kids in cages.

    Asylum requests have a procedure, they are not just people who surreptitiously cross the border, and then claim asylum when they are caught.

  3. C.L. says:

    Dr. Hochman, via a very simple Google search…

    “To obtain asylum through the affirmative asylum process you must be physically present in the United States. You may apply for asylum regardless of how you arrived in the United States or your current immigration status.”

    “A defensive application for asylum occurs when you request asylum as a defense against removal from the United States. For asylum processing to be defensive, you must be in removal proceedings in immigration court with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).”

  4. Jason Hochman says:

    C.L. Yes, that is what I said that there is a process for asylum. It is not entering the country without authorization and then claiming asylum when you get caught. Thanks for clarifying the process.

  5. Manny says:

    Jason are you that stupid or do you pretend stupid to convince the ignorant Republicans?

    They are no caught, they turn themselves in.

    Jason who is more racist, you or Bill?

  6. Kibitzer says:

    Re: Is the ACLU letter a precursor to a lawsuit?

    Maybe it is, maybe it is not, in the sense of the temporal sequence. We will know after the fact.

    If you read the letter carefully, however, it is clear that it does *not* threaten lawsuit (other than a possible judicial action under the PIA in case of refusal or a dispute over the applicability of an asserted exception or privileges, which is a natural corollary to an open records request). And there would be good reason to refrain from making such a threat in conjunction with an open-records request: to avoid giving the local entity/officials cause to invoke additional grounds to object to the release of requested documents (–> “litigation exception” under the PIA).

    It can be anticipated that at least some of the numerous counties to which the letter was sent will invoke the law enforcement exception to the PIA and will request a ruling from the Open Records Division of the Attorney General’s office. That would go to staff attorneys under the control of Ken Paxton. Given that Abbott’s use of the Texas Disaster Act to forge a competing immigration policy is unprecedented, and given that Paxton is a crusader on border control, it would not be surprising for him to take a special interest in the disposition of the Open Records rulings at issue.

    As for the track record and prior handling of open records request of various kinds, and the various exceptions to mandatory disclosure, you can check out the PIA Handbook here: (340 pages)


    Some if not all of the recipients of the letter — including sheriffs — are not going to appreciate being told by the ACLU what they can and cannot do.

    While the ACLU attorneys no doubt know what they are doing, and support their legal argument with citations to court cases (as would be done in a legal brief), they are nevertheless just agents of an advocacy organization, and not a very popular one in conservative and law enforcement circles.

    Moreover, their letter not only stakes out a legal position (about local and state involvement in federal immigration policy), but also prescribes “best practices”. Best practices involve discretionary matters in public administration, resource allocation issues, and governmental unit/departmental policies. These are not, as a general rule, matters of obligations or proscriptions imposed by law.

    That’s not to say that the ACLU’s recommendations don’t have merit. But it’s questionable how much heed the addressees will pay to them. And whether they are receptive will likely depend on to the partisan political climate in the various local jurisdictions.

    As for responding to the PIA request portion of the letter, however, there are standard operating procedures in place, and the counties will have to act promptly lest they lose their right to object and withhold requested records, assuming they are not (or not fully) on board with what the ACLU is trying to do here: impeding and blocking Gov. Abbott’s foray into federal immigration policy and enforcement before he has even announced his candidacy for president, not to mention having been elected and attained legitimate control over the executive branch of the federal government.

  7. Bill Daniels says:

    Yes, people who make irregular entry to the US (cross the border illegally, not at a designated port of entry) have the right to make an asylum claim, however specious it may be. Seems like they should also be prosecuted when they are proven to have lied and made specious claims. Lying on a federal form, like affirming you aren’t an illegal drug addict when purchasing a gun that you later toss in a supermarket dumpster, is a federal crime. True. It’s also true that every single person who crosses illegally, whether they are able to utter the word asylum in English or whatever language they may speak, has committed crimes against the US and against Texas for trespassing and illegal entry. Why do Texas landowners use purple paint and post signs that say, “Posted?” They’re alerting people that is private property that is not to be trespassed on.

    Texas absolutely has the right to enforce its laws, and the right to use eminent domain to build walls. Back in 2006, with the “Secure Fence Act,” a wall wasn’t even a partisan issue. I don’t recall the ACLU fighting the Secure Fence Act that had bipartisan support. Why now?

    Bottom line, if we’re arresting people for trespassing, it means we don’t want you trespassing. Hey, don’t come here illegally if you don’t want to be arrested.

  8. Jason Hochman says:

    the linked regulations state that asylum claims may be made by someone already in the US (which there are many people in the US legally who are not citizens, such as with student or work visas).

    It also says if the person comes to a port of entry may request asylum.

  9. C.L. says:

    Jason, one more time… “You may apply for asylum regardless of how you arrived in the United States or your current immigration status.”

  10. Manny says:

    Most of the people stopped by border patrol do not ask for asylum.

    99% of those that seek asylum show up at court.

    Republicans have lies that they feed their ignorant followers.

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