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Uvalde parents file lawsuit against multiple defendants

Keep an eye on this one.

The first major lawsuit has been filed over the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde by the families of three surviving students.

“The horrors of May 24, 2022, were only possible because so many in positions of power were negligent, careless, and reckless,” Stephanie B. Sherman, the lead attorney in the case, said in a statement.

Defendants in the federal lawsuit include the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, the city of Uvalde, former school district Police Chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, suspended Uvalde Police Lt. Mariano Pargas and then-Robb Principal Mandy Gutierrez.

The families also are suing Daniel Defense, the Georgia manufacturer of the assault-style rifle Salvador Ramos, 18, used in the massacre; gun accessory maker Firequest International Inc., over a mechanism that makes a semi-automatic rifle fire like an automatic; Uvalde gun shop Oasis Outback LLC, which transferred guns Ramos purchased online to the mass shooter; lock manufacturer Schneider Electric, over alleged problems with locks on Robb Elementary doors; and Motorola Solutions, over issues with a dispatch communications system that complicated the police response.

Another defendant: an unknown company, John Doe Company 1, that the lawsuit said the district contracted with to ensure security measures were in place and effective.

The 81-page lawsuit, filed in Del Rio, accuses most defendants of negligence, inaction or defective products or systems that enabled Ramos to buy the firearm, ammunition and gun accessories he used to kill 19 students and two teachers. He wounded 16 others.

[…]

“Due to the conduct of the school and police, and the deliberate choices of the gun makers and sellers to directly market their lethal weapons to young untrained civilians, the shooter bought and assembled a military grade assault weapon with 30-round magazines days after his 18th birthday…,” the lawsuit said.

The plaintiffs include Corina Camacho, the mother of G.M., a 10-year-old boy who was shot in the leg in classroom 112; Tanisha Rodriguez, the mother of G.R., a 9-year old girl who was playing with classmates on the playground when Ramos began firing; and Selena Sanchez and Omar Carbajal, the parents of D.J., an 8-year-old boy who saw the shooter firing as the boy headed from the gym to the nurse’s station.

Sherman and Monique Alarcon, Texas-based attorneys for the Baum Hedlund law firm of California, and attorney Shawn Brown of San Antonio allege a host of civil claims, including intentional infliction of emotional distress, product liability and violations of due process, among others.

The suit seeks undetermined compensatory damages against all defendants and punitive damages against all the defendants except the school district and the city.

There was a class action lawsuit announced in August that perhaps hasn’t been filed yet. The intended defendants are roughly the same, but I see in those earlier stories that there was no mention of who the plaintiffs were, and I believe that’s because the final paperwork hasn’t been filed yet. Of greatest interest to me is the inclusion of the gun manufacturer and sellers – there’s a legal example to follow, but I don’t know how effective it will be. Let’s just say that I wish these plaintiffs, and those who follow them, a lot of luck. The Trib has more.

The one big question DPS still hasn’t answered about Uvalde

The Trib gets at something that I’ve mentioned a couple of times.

Ever since the Uvalde elementary school shooting left 19 students and two teachers dead, blame for the delayed response has been thrust on local law enforcement. The school police chief was fired and the city’s acting police chief was suspended.

But the only statewide law enforcement agency, the Texas Department of Public Safety, has largely avoided scrutiny even though it had scores of officers on the scene. That’s in part because DPS leaders are controlling which records get released to the public and carefully shaping a narrative that casts local law enforcement as incompetent.

Now, in the wake of a critical legislative report and body camera footage released by local officials, law enforcement experts from across the country are questioning why DPS didn’t take a lead role in the response as it had done before during other mass shootings and public disasters.

The state police agency is tasked with helping all of Texas’ 254 counties respond to emergencies such as mass shootings, but it is particularly important in rural communities where smaller police departments lack the level of training and experience of larger metropolitan law enforcement agencies, experts say. That was the case in Uvalde, where the state agency’s 91 troopers at the scene dwarfed the school district’s five officers, the city police’s 25 emergency responders and the county’s 16 sheriff’s deputies.

The state police agency has been “totally intransparent in pointing out their own failures and inadequacies,” said Charles A. McClelland, who served as Houston police chief for six years before retiring in 2016. “I don’t know how the public, even in the state of Texas, would have confidence in the leadership of DPS after this.”

Instead of taking charge when it became clear that neither the school’s police chief nor the Uvalde Police Department had assumed command, DPS contributed to the 74-minute chaotic response that did not end until a Border Patrol tactical unit that arrived much later entered the classroom and killed the gunman.

“Here’s what DPS should have done as soon as they got there,” said Patrick O’Burke, a law enforcement consultant and former DPS commander who retired in 2008. “They should have contacted [the school police chief] and said: ‘We’re here. We have people.’ They should have just organized everything, said, ‘What are all of our resources?’ And they should have organized the breach.”

[…]

[Despite testimony from DPS director Steve McCraw], DPS has sprung into action time and again when disaster strikes in Texas, which has proved key during mass shootings and public emergencies, local officials across the state said.

More than three decades ago, for example, state troopers helped local law enforcement confront a gunman after arriving within minutes of a shooting at a Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, about 60 miles north of Austin. The shooter killed himself after a brief exchange of gunfire.

“They knew that people were dying, and so they acted,” said Suzanna Hupp, a former Republican state representative whose parents died during the 1991 Luby’s massacre. She said that didn’t happen in Uvalde, adding that “clearly there was a command breakdown there.”

In a 2013 chemical explosion in West, about 70 miles south of Dallas, state troopers immediately took control of the law enforcement response at the request of the county’s emergency management coordinator. And in the 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School, about 30 miles south of Houston, state troopers quickly fired at the gunman, according to local law enforcement officials who initially responded. The rapid engagement by school police and DPS was key to the gunman surrendering, district and county officials said.

“DPS had a tremendous role in Santa Fe of stopping the killing because they were among the first to arrive and they actually did what they were supposed to,” said Texas City Independent School District trustee Mike Matranga, the district’s security chief at the time of the shooting. He added that, in Uvalde, DPS supervisors “should have essentially asked [Arredondo] to stand down due to his ineffectiveness and taken over.”

Police experts and lawmakers pointed to clear signs that they believe should have alerted emergency responders that no one was in control. Arredondo, who resigned from his elected City Council seat in July and was fired from the school district on Aug. 24, remained inside the hallway on the phone during the shooting. He said he was trying to find a key to the classroom that the gunman was in. Investigators later determined that the door was likely unlocked. The school police chief did not identify himself as the incident commander and told The Texas Tribune he never issued any orders; his lawyer later said his firing was unjust. In a letter, Arredondo’s attorneys said the police chief “could not have served as the incident commander and did not attempt to take that role” because he was on the front lines.

Separately, no command post was set up outside of the school, which lawmakers noted should have been an indicator to responding officers that no one was in charge.

[…]

The disconnect over who should take charge and when exemplifies a need for detailed planning and frequent training between larger law enforcement agencies and smaller departments, police experts told ProPublica and the Tribune.

Larger agencies with more personnel, equipment and training should have agreements with school districts that clearly state that they will assume command upon arriving at critical incidents that include active shooters, hostage situations and explosive devices, said Gil Kerlikowske, a former Seattle police chief and CBP commissioner until 2017. He and other experts said that even if school police are designated as the lead, the role of every law enforcement agency in the region should be specified.

San Antonio, one of the state’s biggest police departments, has such agreements with local school districts and universities that name the bigger city police agency as the incident commander in the event of a mass shooting. After the Uvalde shooting, San Antonio police Chief William McManus met with school officials in his city and reminded them that his agency would take charge in an active shooter situation.

McManus, whose officers arrived in Uvalde after the gunman was killed, said in an interview that because of the confusion at the scene, he felt the need to emphasize how his department would respond to such an incident in San Antonio.

It is unclear what, if any, involvement DPS or another law enforcement agency had with the Uvalde school district’s mass shooting plan because those governmental bodies declined to release such documents or answer questions. The state police did not have a written memorandum of agreement with the school district outlining its role in such situations, according to DPS records.

Who’s in charge in these situations is a question I’ve raised a few times in writing about this, when the legislative report was released and when the HISD board addressed the question. This is an area where I believe the Lege can and should take action, by requiring school districts (and hell, colleges and universities and community colleges) to have some kind of agreement with either local or state law enforcement agencies and ensuring some minimum standards are met. It’s also a big question for DPS to answer: Why didn’t you take over at Uvalde? Steve McCraw has addressed that already, but I don’t think we should believe him. Certainly, not as long as DPS is being sued over its refusal to release its information to the public about their actions, anything McCraw says should be taken as self-serving first and foremost. And those same questions also go to Greg Abbott, who is McCraw’s boss and patron. Both of them have gotten away with doing nothing for a long time. We need to make sure that time runs out.

More on the Uvalde class action lawsuit

A few more details, anyway.

Charles Bonner served the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District with the multibillion-dollar claim Monday, requesting compensation for the victims. Bonner told The Texas Tribune he intended to serve Uvalde city leaders on Tuesday evening at a City Council meeting.

As evidence of the school district’s responsibility, the claim pointed to a Texas House committee’s report that investigated the shooting as well as law enforcement’s response. The report, which was published a month ago, found that “systemic failures and egregious poor decision making” contributed to the gunman’s ability to get inside a classroom and law enforcement’s delayed response in confronting him.

[…]

The claim, which could become a precursor to a class-action lawsuit, puts the would-be defendants of a potential suit on notice. Bonner said he hopes to reach a settlement ahead of the class-action suit, but if those parties don’t come to the negotiating table, he plans to file the federal lawsuit in September.

Bonner said the claim seeks to establish a medical monitoring fund to pay for counseling for those affected by the incident and further compensation for the victims of the shooting, their families and the other people in the school on the day of the tragedy.

As it stands, the class named in the prospective lawsuit covers nine families of shooting victims, but Bonner said he expects that more people impacted by the shooting will sign on moving forward.

“The theme of this invitation to negotiate is accountability, responsibility and justice, and that’s what we want for everyone in that class. We will leave no victim behind,” Bonner said.

See here for some background on the lawsuit, and here for more on that House committee report. I don’t know what might qualify this as a class action lawsuit – I know that having multiple plaintiffs isn’t enough for that. I do know that $27 billion could pay for a lot of counseling and still provide for significant “further compensation”. I don’t expect there to be a settlement, though one presumes with an opening bid of $27 billion there’s plenty of room to negotiate, so we’ll see what the filing looks like next month. Any lawyers want to comment on this? ABC News and the Express News have more.

Class action lawsuit for Uvalde parents being prepped

There are a lot of blanks to be filled in for this. You can be sure I’ll be watching for them.

Some of the families affected by the Robb Elementary School mass shooting are now a part of a major lawsuit.

The class action lawsuit, which was announced Sunday, is going after several law enforcement agencies as well as the manufacturer of the gun used in the massacre.

”What we intend to do (is) to help serve this community, and that is to file a $27 billion civil rights lawsuit under our United States Constitution, one-of-a-kind in the whole world,” attorney Charles Bonner of Bonner & Bonner Law said.

The civil rights attorney is holding no punches. He intends to file a class action lawsuit against anyone who can be held responsible for what happened inside Robb Elementary on May 24.

“We have the school police, OK, Arredondo, we have the city police, and we have the sheriffs and we have the Texas Rangers, the DPS and we have the Border Patrol,” Bonner said.

The defendants also include gun manufacturer Daniel Defense and Oasis Outback, where the gunman bought the weapon used in the shooting.

“There will be some institutional defendants as well, such as school board or such as City Council or such as the City of the Uvalde,” Bonner said.

[…]

The suit is being filed on constitutionality, as Bonner said the victims, survivors, and their families had their 14th Amendment rights violated.

“People have a right to life under the 14th Amendment and what we’ve seen here is that the law enforcement agencies have shown a deliberate conscious disregard of the life,” Bonner said.

Bonner’s law firm is taking on this class action lawsuit with a team of other firms, including a local Uvalde law office and Everytown, a gun safety organization.

See here and here for some background, though it’s not clear to me that there’s a connection between the previous actions we’ve seen and this pending case. Attorney Bonner says he will file in September, after the Justice Department releases its report on Uvalde and the various law enforcement failures.

I have no idea what to expect from this lawsuit. I think the odds of the plaintiffs winning a judgment whose dollar value starts with a B are vanishingly small, but they could win multiple millions. How long it takes, and what the fallout from it might be – assuming they do in fact win and not have the suit tossed by an appeals court or SCOTUS – is anyone’s guess. We’ll know a little bit more next month.

Uvalde school superintendent recommends firing Arredondo

I suspect he’ll get his wish.

Uvalde school officials will decide the fate of district police Chief Pete Arredondo during a special meeting Saturday after Superintendent Hal Harrell recommended the police chief’s firing.

The meeting falls almost two months after Arredondo was among the first law enforcement officers to arrive at the scene of Texas’ worst school shooting.

Blame for the fiercely criticized response to the massacre — during which law enforcement waited more than an hour to confront the shooter — has largely fallen on Arredondo. The district placed him on administrative leave roughly one month after the shooting.

[…]

Much of Uvalde residents’ anger over the delayed response to the shooting has been directed toward Arredondo. In a school board meeting Monday, residents chastised school officials for not already firing Arredondo. They also criticized officials for what residents saw as slow attempts to improve campus safety.

Arredondo’s actions at the scene were also criticized in a Texas House committee report released Sunday, though the report also points to the failure of other agencies to respond appropriately. Arredondo was among 376 law enforcement officers from local, state and federal agencies on the scene. The responding officers, though, lacked clear leadership, basic communications and sufficient urgency to take down the gunman, the report states.

The consensus of those interviewed by the House committee was that either Arredondo — or no one — was in charge at the scene, which several witnesses described as chaotic.

In an interview with The Texas Tribune, Arredondo said he did not think he was the incident commander on the scene. Yet according to the school district’s active-shooter response plan, authored in part by Arredondo, the district chief would “become the person in control of the efforts of all law enforcement and first responders that arrive at the scene.”

See here and here for some background. I agree that Arredondo bears a lot of responsibility for the response – it’s mind-boggling that he didn’t think he was in charge, especially without having explicitly handed over command to DPS or Border Control or whoever – and I’d vote to kick him if I were on the Uvalde school board, but he’s hardly the only incompetent here. The report was clear that DPS and the other law enforcement agencies on site were part of the chaos, and we have previous and more recent reporting on DPS’s failures. Maybe someone should suggest to Greg Abbott that he do Steve McCraw next? But then Abbott would have to admit some responsibility as well, and we know that’s not going to happen.

On a more practical level, the “I didn’t think I was in charge here” issue is something that the Lege can and should address. It may be a matter of handing the issue off to a committee or an agency – ironically, DPS might be best suited for this – and then mandating that the process and its details be drilled into every current and future cop. Because Lord knows, until we actually get serious about curbing gun violence, situations like this will come up again. And we’ll have even less of an excuse for not knowing how to handle it. Texas Public Radio has more.

House committee report on the Uvalde massacre

The special State House committee that was tasked with investigating the response to the Uvalde mass shooting released its report yesterday. The report identified numerous failures, in law enforcement and in the school and in other systems, though it’s clear to me that they studiously avoided mentioning one particular type of failure. I’ll get there in a minute. First, the law enforcement failures.

The 18-year-old who massacred 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde on May 24 had no experience with firearms before his rampage began. He targeted an elementary school with an active shooter policy that had been deemed adequate but also a long history of doors propped open.

No one was able to stop the gunman from carrying out the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, in part because of “systemic failures and egregious poor decision making” by nearly everyone involved who was in a position of power, a new investigation into the shooting has found.

On Sunday, a Texas House committee is releasing the most exhaustive account yet of the shooter, his planning, his attack and the fumbling response he provoked.

The 77-page report, reviewed by The Texas Tribune, provides a damning portrayal of a family unable to recognize warning signs, a school district that had strayed from strict adherence to its safety plan and a police response that disregarded its own active-shooter training.

It explains how the gunman, who investigators believe had never fired a gun before May 24, was able to stockpile military-style rifles, accessories and ammunition without arousing suspicion from authorities, enter a supposedly secure school unimpeded and indiscriminately kill children and adults.

In total, 376 law enforcement officers — a force larger than the garrison that defended the Alamo — descended upon the school in a chaotic, uncoordinated scene that lasted for more than an hour. The group was devoid of clear leadership, basic communications and sufficient urgency to take down the gunman, the report says.

Notably, the investigation is the first so far to criticize the inaction of state and federal law enforcement, while other reports and public accounts by officials have placed the blame squarely on Uvalde school police Chief Pete Arredondo, for his role as incident commander, and other local police who were among the first to arrive.

The report also reveals for the first time that the overwhelming majority of responders were federal and state law enforcement: 149 were U.S. Border Patrol, and 91 were state police — whose responsibilities include responding to “mass attacks in public places.” There were 25 Uvalde police officers and 16 sheriff’s deputies. Arredondo’s school police force accounted for five of the officers on the scene. The rest of the force was made up of neighboring county law enforcement, U.S. Marshals, and federal Drug Enforcement Agency officers.

The investigators said that in the absence of a strong incident commander, another officer could have — and should have — stepped up to the task.

“These local officials were not the only ones expected to supply the leadership needed during this tragedy,” the report said. “Hundreds of responders from numerous law enforcement agencies — many of whom were better trained and better equipped than the school district police — quickly arrived on the scene.”

The other responders “could have helped to address the unfolding chaos.”

The three committee members — Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock; Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso and former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman — said they sought to create a comprehensive account the Legislature can use to craft policies aimed at preventing future massacres. The trio also sought to present an accurate narrative to the public, in contrast to several conflicting and retracted accounts provided by other officials, including the governor and state police, in the seven weeks since the tragedy that have undermined residents’ trust in the ongoing investigations.

They dedicated the document to the 21 people killed in the shooting, and first unveiled their findings during a private meeting with Uvalde residents on Sunday.

“The Committee issues this interim report now, believing the victims, their families, and the entire Uvalde community have already waited too long for answers and transparency,” the report reads.

The report is not yet public, or at least it wasn’t when I drafted this post on Sunday. The chain-of-command failure seems like one for which there ought to be an objective solution, which could be mandated by state law or recommended via a state or federal agency. I mean, we all know there are going to be more of these mass shootings, so the least we can do – the very least we the public can reasonably expect – is that law enforcement agencies have their act together and know who’s in charge when this happens. It makes sense to me that the locals start out in charge, but there ought to be some mechanism and process for either handing that off to another agency or having it taken by them if the situation warrants. I’m no expert and don’t know what the best answer may be, but any idiot can see that what went down in Uvalde was absolutely unacceptable and must not be allowed to happen again.

The report also looked at the shooter, the ways he was failed as a child by those around him, and the warning signs he was giving off before the murders.

A year before the Uvalde school massacre, the gunman had already earned the nickname “school shooter” — a running joke among those he played online games with. He had also started wearing all black and making over-the-top threats, especially toward women, who he terrorized with graphic descriptions of violence and rape.

[…]

Salvador Ramos — who the committee is only referring to as “the attacker” so as to deny him the notoriety and fame he desired — also shot and wounded his grandmother, Celia Gonzales, before storming the school.

He was born in Fargo, North Dakota but moved to Uvalde as a child with his sister and mother, who struggled with a long history of drug use. A former girlfriend interviewed by the FBI said she believed the shooter had been sexually assaulted at an early age by one of the mother’s boyfriends but that she didn’t believe him.

Relatives described him as someone shy and quiet who was reluctant to interact with others because he had a speech impediment. When he started school, his pre-K teacher described him as a “wonderful student,” always ready to learn and with a positive attitude.

Then, something changed. He started falling behind in school but never received special education services, despite being identified as “at-risk” and having someone request speech therapy for him, according to the report, citing school records.

Family and friends told the committee he was bullied throughout the fourth grade over his stutter, short haircut and clothing. He often wore the same clothing day after day. One time, a girl tied his shoelaces together causing him to fall on his face, a cousin said.

Beginning in 2018, he was recording more than 100 absences a year, along with failing grades. But the report authors said it was unclear whether a school resource officer ever visited his home. By 2021, when he was 17 years old, he had only completed ninth grade, the report’s authors wrote.

When students started to return to school following the pandemic, he dropped out. Instead of trying to fit in, as he had done in the past, he grew more isolated and retreated to the online world. Uvalde High School officials involuntarily withdrew him on October 28, citing “poor academic performance and lack of attendance.”

[…]

Online, the report authors said, he started to show an interest in gore and violent sex, sometimes sharing videos and images of suicides and beheadings. He became enraged and threatened others, especially female players, when he lost games.

Privately, he wrote about his challenges connecting with others or feeling empathy for them, saying he was “not human.” His search history, the authors of the report wrote, suggest he was wondering whether he was a sociopath. His internet searches led to him receiving an email about obtaining psychological treatment for the condition.

Attacking women became a pattern. He was also fired from his job at a Whataburger after a month for threatening a female coworker. And later he was let go of his job at Wendy’s.

Despite losing his jobs, living at home allowed him to save money. By the end of 2021, when clues of his plans first surfaced, he ordered rifle slings, a red dot sight and shin guards, as well as a body armor carrier he wore the day of the Robb Elementary massacre. But because he was still 17 at the time, he wasn’t legally allowed to buy the weapons and at least two people he asked refused.

He started becoming fascinated with school shootings and increasingly seeking notoriety and fame on social media, the report said.

[…]

He confided in an older cousin who was also staying with their grandmother that he didn’t want to live anymore. But the cousin told authorities she thought she’d gotten through to him after a lengthy “heart-to-heart.”

Instead, Ramos began to buy more firearm accessories beginning in February, including 60 30-round magazines. As soon as he turned 18, on May 16, he started buying guns and ammunition. In the end he bought two AR-15-style rifles and thousands of rounds. In total, he spent more than $6,000, the committee found.

He had no criminal history nor had he ever been arrested. There was nothing in his background that kept him from owning the weapons. And while multiple gun sales within a short period of time are reported to the ATF, the committee report authors point out that the law only requires purchase of handguns to be reported to the local sheriff.

“Here, the information about the attacker’s gun purchases remained in federal hands,” they wrote.

Online, the shooter started to reference a timeline, foreshadowing his plans.

Emphasis mine. To me, the single biggest failure is that this guy was able to buy all this stuff, without which there could have been no massacre. Why should any minor be able to buy the paraphernalia he bought, and why should anyone at any age be able to buy AR-15s with thousands of rounds of ammunition? I’m not making a constitutional argument here, I’m making a moral one. I say we’d be living in a healthier and safer society right now if no one outside the military had access to such weaponry.

I don’t expect such a statement to be in a report like this, but the much milder suggestion that maybe limiting the sale of most guns and gun accessories to people over the age of 21 is an idea worth exploring would have been appropriate. The longer we refuse to take any kind of proactive steps to reduce mass shootings, the more extreme and extensive the reactive steps we will be forced to take to try to mitigate them. We can fixate all we want on the laxness of door-locking at Robb Elementary, or we can try to make it harder for people to stockpile weapons in sufficient quantities as to intimidate police departments.

Anyway. A brief summary of the highlights from the report is here. The House committee can write a report and make recommendations, but only the Governor can call a special session to pass laws that those recommendations suggest. Don’t expect much of a response from Greg Abbott et al.

UPDATE: Here’s one response: A Uvalde police lieutenant who led the department the day it was part of the fiercely criticized response to the worst school shooting in Texas history has been placed on administrative leave, according to Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin. We’ll see if DPS or any other agency sees similar fallout.

Looks like Texas didn’t even have to sue to keep Title 42 from ending

A different Trump judge already put it in the bag for them.

A federal judge in Louisiana plans to temporarily block the Biden administration from ending Title 42, a pandemic-era health order used by federal immigration officials to expel migrants, including asylum-seekers, at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The temporary restraining order is expected in a lawsuit brought by Louisiana, Arizona and Missouri after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it would let the order expire May 23. The details of such a restraining order were not available late Monday.

“The parties will confer regarding the specific terms to be contained in the Temporary Restraining Order and attempt to reach agreement,” according to minutes from a Monday status conference in the case.

See here for the background. Sure is convenient to have a Trump judge for all purposes, isn’t it? Daily Kos has more.

Texas sues to stop the end of Title 42

Just another day at the office of destruction for Ken Paxton.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration on Friday to halt the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from lifting Title 42, a pandemic-era health order used by federal immigration officials to expel migrants, including asylum-seekers, at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Title 42, which was enacted in March 2020 by the Trump administration, has been used 1.7 million times to expel migrants. Many of them have been removed multiple times after making repeated attempts to enter the U.S.

The CDC has the authority to enact orders like Title 42 under the 1944 Public Health Service Act, which gives federal officials the authority to stop the entry of people and products into the U.S. to limit the spread of communicable diseases. Part of the reason the agency is planning to lift the order soon is that COVID-19 cases have been decreasing and vaccinations have become widely available. The order is set to expire on May 23.

Paxton’s lawsuit argues that the Biden administration didn’t follow the administrative procedure laws needed to halt Title 42. The suit adds that if the Biden administration follows through with lifting the order, Texas will have to pay for social services for the migrants who enter the country.

“The Biden Administration’s disastrous open border policies and its confusing and haphazard COVID-19 response have combined to create a humanitarian and public safety crisis on our southern border,” the lawsuit says, which was filed in the Southern District of Texas in Victoria.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, said on Thursday during a virtual event with the Council on Foreign Relations that health orders are not immigration policies.

“You don’t use a health law to deal with a migration challenge. You use migration laws to deal with migration challenges. You can’t use the cover of health to try to deal with a migration challenge,” he said.

[…]

The state has filed at least 20 other lawsuits in Texas-based federal courts, most of them led by Paxton, against the Biden administration over everything from federal mask mandates to halting the long-disputed Keystone XL pipeline. Judges appointed by former President Donald Trump have heard 16 of the cases and ruled in favor of Texas in seven. The other nine are pending, as of last month.

A majority of these lawsuits have been filed in courts in which the judge was appointed by Trump.

I mean, we could just wait until the combination of Democratic cold feet and empty both-siderism appeals forces Biden to back off anyway, but Paxton has never been one to wait for things to happen when he can find a friendly Trump judge to make them happen for him. Looks like I picked a bad day to quit sniffing glue. The Chron has more.

Keeping the world safe from low tire pressure

Such a visionary.

State troopers ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott to inspect every commercial truck coming from Mexico earlier this month — which clogged international trade with Mexico — found zero drugs, weapons or any other type of contraband, according to data released by the Department of Public Safety to The Texas Tribune.

Over eight days, starting April 8, troopers conducted more than 4,100 inspections of trucks. Troopers didn’t find any contraband but took 850 trucks off the road for various violations related to their equipment. Other truckers were given warnings, and at least 345 were cited for things such as underinflated tires, broken turn signals and oil leaks.

DPS Director Steve McCraw said at a Friday news conference with Abbott that the reason troopers hadn’t found any drugs or migrants in commercial trucks is because drug cartels “don’t like troopers stopping them, certainly north of the border, and they certainly don’t like 100% inspections of commercial vehicles on the bridges. And once that started, we’ve seen a decreased amount of trafficking across bridges — common sense.”

But Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy group for human rights in the Americas, said it’s not likely cartels stopped the smuggling of drugs because of the state’s inspections. He said many illegal drugs smuggled into the United States are hidden in small compartments or spare tires of people’s vehicles going through international bridges for tourists. He said if smugglers were trying to hide illegal drugs in a commercial truck, it’s most likely federal immigration officials found them before the trucks were directed to the DPS secondary inspections.

“It just seems odd to me that DPS would be that much of a deterrent for smugglers deciding whether to bring something after already passing through the gauntlet of CBP,” he said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection routinely inspects commercial cargo coming from Mexico for illegal drugs and people being smuggled as soon as truckers cross the international bridges. CBP called Texas’ inspections duplicative and “unnecessary.”

Emphasis mine, and see here for the previous entry. Beto is out there talking about this stuff. We need more people on our team joining him in this.

On a related note:

According to an analysis by the Waco-based Perryman Group, the U.S. lost an estimated $8.97 billion due to shipping delays between April 6 and 15, the time in which Abbott’s rule was in effect. Texas alone lost $4.23 billion in gross product.

The economics firm based its estimates on a 2019 study it conducted on a separate border slowdown and updated the data to account for this month’s different circumstances, CEO Ray Perryman told Axios.

Perryman promised to release more detailed numbers later this week.

I haven’t looked to see if Perryman has followed through on that. I tend to like Ray Perryman’s projections in the sense that they generally align with my worldview, but I’m a bit skeptical of their provenance sometimes. I have no doubt that Abbott’s dictum had a negative effect on the economy – hell, that was the plan all along – but I don’t think it’s that easy to put a number on it. Anything that doesn’t come with wide error bars alongside it should be viewed with some side-eye. The concept is sound, the details are fuzzy, that’s all I’m saying.

Abbott ends his border hostage-taking

I cannot get over how stupid and cynical this was, and yet it may be politically successful.

Gov. Greg Abbott reached a fourth and final deal — this one with Tamaulipas’ governor on Friday — to end state troopers’ increased inspections of commercial vehicles at international bridges that gridlocked commercial traffic throughout the Texas-Mexico border for more than a week.

The latest deal should bring trade back to normal after Abbott-ordered enhanced inspections at key commercial bridges caused over a week of backups that left truckers waiting for hours and sometimes days to get loads of produce, auto parts and other goods into the U.S.

At a press conference with Abbott in Weslaco, Tamaulipas Gov. Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca said his state will continue its five-part security plan, launched in 2016, that includes stationing police every 31 miles on state highways, personality and polygraph tests for officers in the state police department, increasing salaries for police officers and offering scholarships for the children of state police officers.

Abbott said the deals with Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas were “historic,” calling them an example of how border states can work together on immigration. But three of the four Mexican governors said they will simply continue security measures they put in place before Abbott ordered the state inspections.

[…]

When he announced the initiative last week, Abbott said the goal was to stop illegal drugs and migrants from being smuggled into the state. As of Friday, the Department of Public Safety had not reported any drugs seized or migrants apprehended as a result of the state inspections.

Emphasis mine. Keep that in mind, that in the end basically nothing has changed and nothing was accomplished. Sound and fury, all the way down.

Abbott’s critics say the Texas governor’s order was a political ploy to raise his profile in his reelection campaign which has disrupted the economies of Texas and the four Mexican border states.

“A lot of our members are absolutely flabbergasted that this was allowed to happen and that it happened for so long for the sake of border security,” said Dante Galeazzi, president of the Texas International Produce Association. “We feel like we were used as bargaining chips.”

Beto O’Rourke, Abbott’s Democratic opponent in the November election, said Abbott is doing a victory lap for a problem he created.

“Abbott is the arsonist who torched the Texas economy by shutting down trade with Mexico to score cheap political points,” he said. “Now he wants credit for putting out the fire by announcing these ridiculous ‘security agreements.’ Texans aren’t buying it and we’ll never forget the chaos Abbott has caused to our economy and our border communities.”

Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy group for human rights in the Americas, said Abbott may have made a political miscalculation with the inspections.

“This seems like it’s not working out for him. His base is pro-business and anti-immigrant and he has just antagonized business while giving voluntary free rides to immigrants,” he said, referring to another Abbott order that has provided bus rides to Washington, D.C., to transport asylum-seekers who have been processed and released by federal authorities — if they volunteered to go.

Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a political science professor at George Mason University who studies U.S.-Mexico relations, said she struggled to understand why Abbott would issue a border directive that would inflict so much damage on his own state’s economy.

“Why shoot himself in the foot? Well, he’s not. He’s calculating,” she said. “This is part of a political spectacle because we are in midterm elections and the economy is bad.”

Abbott can take action that would negatively impact the state economy and not have to pay a price for it because voters are already blaming the Biden administration for inflation, Correa-Cabrera said.

“He’ll probably blame Washington for the unrest and anger that this crisis is going to cause voters,” she said. “You have the perfect excuse to run in an electoral year and to support your party in an electoral year but [you generate] the sense that the other party is to blame for the situation.”

See here, here, and here for the background. We have noted the strategy behind Abbott’s otherwise empty and meaningless actions, and there is certainly a logic and appeal to them. We like to think that reality is a good defense against this kind of concentrated bullshit, but in the year of our Lord 2022 we should know better. Talking about why it’s bullshit is the main hope. Stories like this are good for that effort.

Eladio Cordero, a produce worker at Trinidad Fresh Produce in the McAllen Produce Terminal Market, sorted through jalapeños Thursday — about one in three had orange spots. A few feet away from him, dozens of flies buzzed around a pile of browning onions.

Every day at the terminal, where hundreds of trucks pass through to drop off tons of Mexican-grown goods, the fruits and vegetables that have gone bad are picked out and thrown away.

“The merchandise comes from Mexico and by the time it crosses it can go bad, and those are losses,” said Gustavo Garcia, a floor manager for Trinidad Fresh Produce, a distributor at the terminal.

After Gov. Greg Abbott ordered state inspections on commercial vehicles entering from Mexico last week, the stack of garbage-bound onions grew taller. The jalapeños that didn’t survive the long journey into the U.S. were discarded. Garcia said he doesn’t know if retailers will still want to buy the aging produce he keeps, but if they do, the price will be marked down at least 30%.

[…]

Felix, a 60-year-old Mexican trucker who was transporting tomatoes, onions and avocados, waited about 13 hours in line at the bridge. He asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of retribution and targeted inspections from CBP officials.

Hearing of the delays at the border, he packed water and food for a few days. But other truckers didn’t come as prepared and were sitting in standstill traffic without anything to eat or drink. Felix said he was told by a CBP official that the agency would put portable bathrooms along the bridge for the gridlocked truckers, but he never saw them.

Once Felix made it to the state troopers’ inspection point around 9 p.m., he said they didn’t even peer into his truck, which had been sealed since Mexican authorities inspected it about 600 miles away in the state of Sinaloa.

“There’s no possibility of bringing illegal immigrants in the merchandise or in the cabin,” he said, referencing one of Abbott’s explanations for the inspections. “I can’t bring an illegal immigrant here for money because I know [inspectors] are going to discover them. It’s not a thing here. I don’t know what the politicians’ ideas are. I don’t know what they’re talking about.”

[…]

The delays caused by the state’s inspections are the latest blow to farmers and produce businesses in the Rio Grande Valley since 2020. Last year’s winter freeze damaged millions of pounds of product. The pandemic forced companies to size down their workforce and implement virus mitigation strategies. And inflation is sending costs for business needs like fertilizer, diesel and packaging materials soaring.

But Bret Erickson, former president and CEO of the Texas International Produce Association and a current executive with Little Bear Produce, a Texas produce grower and distributor, said this latest setback is different.

“There’s nothing you can do about Mother Nature; that’s just part of the farming business,” Erickson said. “But when you’ve got a politician go out and make a decision like Gov. Abbott did, it’s like a slap in the face.”

“Anytime that we are losing a day of business, there’s always a lasting impact,” he added. “Every day that goes by that we haven’t been able to receive these loads, those are sales dollars that we will not get back. Those are dollars that are not going to be returned to our employees’ paychecks, because they didn’t work.”

Seems like that could put a bit of a dent into the Republicans’ much-vaunted strategy to main gains in South Texas. But for that to happen, we’ve got to talk about it, and by “we” I mean Democrats at every level, from the President on down. And more importantly, we’ve got to talk to the people who were on the short end of this stick, to hear their concerns and make sure they know whose fault this was. And not for nothing, but there’s a ton of material for political ads in this. The Chron has another example of people who were directly affected speaking up, in this case some folks who are otherwise aligned with Abbott.

“Governor Abbott is directly responsible for applying these new senseless inspections on our industry as well as the adverse impact they are having on the economy and hardworking Americans, including truckers,” said American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear. “We ask that the Governor scrap his misguided scheme immediately.”

[…]

When Abbott ordered the inspections earlier this month, he told DPS officials it was because drug cartels “do not care about the condition of the vehicles.” On Friday he said through the inspections DPS has taken hundreds of trucks off the road that could have injured Texans on the roads and highways.

But as the inspections snarled commerce at the border, Abbott was getting increasing blowback from businesses and other Republicans who worried he was blocking legal transportation across the border and not really slowing illegal immigration.

The American Trucking Association said the impact of Abbott’s inspection program was too much for their workers.

“Additional layers of new screening for motor carriers – who are already subject to significant screening and have a strong record of compliance – provides little safety benefit, while the congestion and impact on our already stressed supply chain will cause the price of goods to rise,” Spear said.

The ads write themselves, but someone has to make them and run them. What are we waiting for?

One more thing, in regard to how much safer these dumb inspections supposedly made Texas highways:

If we’re not talking about it then nobody is.

Greg Abbott is still a threat to international trade

This is at best window dressing.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott relented Wednesday, agreeing to ease the additional safety inspections of trucks at the busiest border entry point near Laredo in exchange for promises of more border security by Mexican officials along one 8-mile stretch of the border.

The move comes after Abbott endured days of withering criticism from both Democrats and Republicans and faced pushback from shipping companies and the Texas Trucking Association.

Since he implemented the more thorough inspections a week ago, truck traffic at many of the Texas ports of entry have stalled. In Laredo, the nation’s biggest trucking port, the normal 30 minutes or less to get across ballooned to three hours or longer, delaying shipments of everything from produce to electronics and driving up costs for trucking companies.

But Abbott said on Wednesday that the easing of inspections is only happening along the 8-mile stretch of border with Nuevo Leon, which has just a tiny portion of the 1,254-mile border with Texas. Abbott said he’s talking to leaders of other Mexican states to work out similar agreements in return for speeding up inspections in Texas.

“Since Nuevo Leon has increased its security on its side of the border, the Texas Department of Public Safety can return to its previous practice of random searches of vehicles crossing the the bridge from Neuvo Leon,” Abbott said with the Nuevo Leon Gov. Samuel Alejandro García Sepulveda at his side.

[…]

In Mexico, the governor’s order triggered a revolt from truckers who have set up blockades shutting off all U.S. trucks from entering the country at key points in Hidalgo County and in El Paso.

The White House slammed Abbott on Wednesday, saying his actions were resulting in more supply chain disruptions and hindering U.S. Customs checks at the border.

“The continuous flow of legitimate trade and travel and CBP’s ability to do its job should not be obstructed,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in the statement.

Even Abbott’s biggest allies began to turn against his policy over the last few days. The Texas Trucking Association, which just two months ago endorsed his re-election, released a statement criticizing the policy.

“Unfortunately, this new initiative duplicates existing screening efforts and leads to significant congestion, delaying the products Americans rely on from our largest trading partner, Mexico,” TXTA President & CEO John D. Esparza said.

See here and here for the background. The TXTA is welcome to reconsider their endorsement, since it might be occurring to them that Abbott will throw anyone under the bus (or the truck, as it happens) to further his own political fortunes. Can we pause to note that this is a governor engaging in a combination of foreign policy and blatant extortion, neither of which are supposed to be in his job description? What’s scary to me is that it’s not clear what power the federal government has here to make him stop. Our entire system is based on the presumption that everyone in a position of power will more or less follow a basic set of rules and norms and expectations, and if there’s one thing that the last few years have made especially clear, it’s that there’s not a whole lot we can do when bad actors refuse to play along. I’m at a loss here.

TPM summarizes as follows:

The U.S. continues to be wracked by supply chain disruptions and inflation. This move seems designed — and well designed — to exacerbate both. Abbott’s calculation, probably accurate, is that he can create chaos and price spikes to pressure Biden and it’s no skin off his back since Biden will be blamed anyway. It’s all gravy.

Literally, the one thing that can be done is to vote Abbott out in November. That would not only put a stop to these particular shenanigans, it would also send a clear message that there is a price to pay for political vandalism. The problem is that if Abbott wins, and he’s certainly favored to do so right now, the exact opposite message gets sent. It’s one that Republicans have been getting for over a decade now, and it has very much incentivized more and more of this same malevolence. I don’t know what else to say. The Trib, the Current, TPM, and the Trib again have more.

Abbott’s migrant roundup order still blocked

Good.

A federal judge in El Paso on Friday extended her order blocking Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive to state troopers to pull over drivers transporting migrants “who pose a risk of carrying COVID-19.”

U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone lengthened her restraining order by another two weeks after a hearing Friday, according to a court filing. Her original order on Aug. 3 was set to expire Friday.

In July, Abbott ordered state troopers to pull over civilian drivers giving rides to recent immigrants who may be infected with the virus and redirect the drivers to their origin point. If the driver didn’t comply, the troopers should seize their vehicles, the order said.

Soon after, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Texas and Abbott, describing the governor’s executive order as “dangerous and unlawful.”

In the lawsuit, the DOJ said Abbott’s order would disrupt federal immigration officials’ network of contractors and nongovernmental organizations that help host recently arrived migrants while their legal cases are pending.

See here and here for background on the suit filed by the Justice Department. There’s also now another lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of several groups; as far as I know there has not yet been a hearing for that. In keeping with my earlier posts, I don’t know how this is likely to play out, but as a rule any time Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton lose in court, it’s probably a good thing.

Another lawsuit filed against Abbott’s migrant transport order

Bring them on.

Immigrant rights groups backed by the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against Texas Governor Greg Abbott over his executive order restricting the transportation of migrants, claiming it goes against federal law and amounts to racial profiling at the southern border.

The legal challenge was brought by the nonprofit Annunciation House, a migrant shelter provider in El Paso, along with immigrant advocacy groups Angry Tias & Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley and FIEL Houston,. They are represented by attorneys with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and the ACLU of Texas.

This lawsuit, filed late Wednesday in El Paso federal court, comes six days after the U.S. Department of Justice sued Abbott to block the order. On Tuesday, a federal judge in that case issued a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of the order until a hearing on an injunction can be held.

Echoing the DOJ’s claims, the ACLU and immigration groups allege that the order violates the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution by attempting to regulate the movement of migrants, which is for the federal government to decide. They also say the order unlawfully attempts to regulate the federal government.

[…]

In Wednesday’s lawsuit, the ACLU argues the order will directly impact people who have been released from the federal government’s custody into the country to await their immigration hearing. Those people will be unable to get any form of transportation after being released from CBP custody, according to the complaint, which points out that state law enforcement officials would be taking migrants back to CBP after the agency released them.

The groups also claim the order allows Texas police to racially profile travelers along the border region.

“It directs state officers to make their own determinations about passengers’ immigration status, wholly independent of the federal government, and to impose harsh penalties based on those unilateral immigration decisions,” the lawsuit states. “It opens the door to profiling, standardless detention, questioning, vehicle seizure, rerouting, and heavy fines. The executive order is already having a profound chilling effect on people’s movement in border communities and throughout the state.”

In addition, the immigrant advocacy organizations say they will be directly affected by the order if it is allowed to be enforced. Annunciation House transports migrants who have been released from federal immigration custody to its facility, which houses migrants in the El Paso area. Angry Tias funds numerous services for migrants, including a taxi service that is kept on retainer. Both groups say they would be unable to provide such services under the governor’s order, would face having their vehicles impounded and would be left with no way of assisting migrants.

See here and here for background on the suit filed by the Justice Department. As before, I don’t really know enough to say much of value – I’m not fully clear on the differences in the claims made by the two groups of plaintiffs. It may be that this suit winds up getting combined with the other one, as often happens. Whatever the case, I’m rooting for the plaintiffs. The Texas Signal and Daily Kos have more.

Judge halts Abbott’s “pull over migrants” executive order

For now, anyway.

A federal judge on Tuesday blocked Gov. Greg Abbott and the state of Texas from ordering state troopers to pull over drivers transporting migrants “who pose a risk of carrying COVID-19.”

U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone granted a temporary restraining order against Abbott’s move, meaning it will be blocked while the case continues to unfold. The U.S. Justice Department sued Abbott and Texas on Friday, a day after U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland threatened to take legal action if Abbott didn’t rescind his order, calling it “dangerous and unlawful.”

In a statement later Tuesday, Abbott’s press secretary said the state looks forward to presenting evidence that supports his order.

“The Court’s recent order is temporary and based on limited evidence,” Press Secretary Renae Eze said in the statement.

Cardone still must decide whether Texas’ move is constitutional, and her temporary restraining order is set to last until the court’s next hearing on Aug. 13. Abbott has defended his order as necessary to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Texas, while advocates for migrants say it would disrupt federal immigration efforts and invite troopers to racially profile people.

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the restraining order. This is all pretty technical and I don’t have the knowledge to say anything cogent, so I will give you a bunch of links at the end of the story for more reading, and we’ll go from there. This tweet made me think about what may come next:

It certainly won’t surprise me if Abbott takes another crack at this if he loses. He has every incentive to push at this until he can claim a victory of some kind. Buzzfeed, the Chron, Daily Kos, and TPM have more.

Justice Department sues over Abbott’s anti-migrant executive order

Good.

The Biden administration sued Texas on Friday, asking a federal judge to block Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that state troopers pull over drivers transporting migrants who pose a risk of carrying COVID-19 as a way to prevent the spread of the virus.

The lawsuit comes a day after the U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, in a letter to the governor, threatened to take legal action against Texas if Abbott didn’t rescind his order. Garland described the order as “dangerous and unlawful.”

The Department of Justice said in the lawsuit that Abbott’s order will contribute to the spread of COVID-19 and it will disrupt immigration officials’ network of contractors and non government organizations that help host recently arrived migrants as their legal cases are pending.

“In our constitutional system, a State has no right to regulate the federal government’s operations,” the DOJ argued in a motion asking the judge to block Abbott’s order, adding “this restriction on the transportation of noncitizens would severely disrupt federal immigration operations.”

[…]

The lawsuit says that if migrants are not allowed to be transported by volunteers or contractors they would have to be confined to immigration facilities where there would not be enough space for every migrant.

I’d not blogged about this before, so here’s the background for you:

Gov. Greg Abbott draws criticism for ordering state troopers to pull over vehicles with migrants, saying it will stem COVID-19 risk
U.S. attorney general blasts Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest border directive and threatens a legal battle
‘Dangerous and unlawful.’ AG Merrick Garland threatens to sue over Gov. Abbott’s latest border order

Yes, the same Governor who has banned mask mandates and vaccine mandates for local government employees somehow thinks this will have a positive effect on COVID, even though 90% of migrants are vaccinated, nearly double the rate of the Texas population as a whole. For more on the lawsuit, which is an emergency motion seeking an injunction or temporary restraining order, see here. For a copy of the lawsuit itself, see here. For an analysis of why the Abbott executive order is “*flagrantly* illegal and unconstitutional”, see here. For more in general, see Dos Centavos and the Chron.

Deportation freeze still on hold

Grrrrrrrr.

Best mugshot ever

A federal judge in Texas has put an indefinite halt to President Joe Biden’s 100-day ban on deportations after issuing a preliminary injunction late Tuesday.

The ruling by Judge Drew Tipton comes after he had already temporarily paused the moratorium twice. The ban is nationwide and is in place as the case continues to play out in courts.

The ruling is a victory for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who sued to block Biden’s order three days into the Biden administration. Paxton’s office argued the state would face financial harm if undocumented immigrants were released into the state because of costs associated with health care and education, and said the moratorium would also lure others to come to Texas.

Tipton, a Trump appointee to the federal bench, wrote in his order that Texas would also incur costs for detaining immigrants within its state. “Texas claimed injury from unanticipated detention costs is sufficiently concrete and imminent. The harm is concrete or de facto because Texas incurs real financial costs in detaining criminal aliens,” he wrote.

It’s unclear whether the Biden administration will appeal the ruling to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Texas’ federal benches.

See here, here, and here for the background. This continues to be a load of crap, though as noted before one that seems to have a fairly limited impact. I don’t know what the argument is for not appealing. You can find a copy of the order here.

Deportation pause still on hold

Another pause for the pause, which is as dumb and annoying as it sounds.

Best mugshot ever

A federal judge in Texas has extended the block on President Joe Biden’s deportation moratorium for two more weeks as the case continues to play out in court.

Judge Drew Tipton said in an order dated Monday the extension was necessary for “the record to be more fully developed” in the case brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who challenged Biden’s 100-day pause on deportations.

Tipton originally issued a 14-day suspension of Biden’s moratorium on Jan. 26. The pause in deportations was part of Biden’s attempted day one overhaul of several of former President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. But Paxton quickly filed a lawsuit in response to Biden’s moratorium, claiming the state would face financial harm if undocumented immigrants were released from custody, because of costs associated with health care and education.

In his order, Tipton, a Trump appointee who took the bench last year, said Texas would face more harm than the federal government if the extension was not granted.

See here and here for the background. Not clear to me why this is taking so long, or even if this counts as “so long” at this point. I started to write that I wasn’t sure why there hasn’t been an appeal yet, but this tweet by Aaron Reichlin-Melnick answered that question, and suggested now one may be forthcoming . Beyond that, all I know is we’re still waiting.

Federal judge blocks the deportation pause

Infuriating, but possibly less than it appears.

Best mugshot ever

A federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked the Biden administration from moving forward with a 100-day pause on many deportations across the US, saying Tuesday that it was not adequately reasoned or explained to the public.

The temporary restraining order represents an initial setback for the Biden administration, which has vowed to reform agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by restricting who is arrested and deported.

“This is a frustrating loss for an administration that was trying to set a different tone than the chaos and rapid changes of the prior four years,” said Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. “The order makes it clear that the moratorium may face significant legal hurdles.”

Judge Drew Tipton, who was appointed by former president Donald Trump, ordered the Biden administration to immediately stop enforcing its moratorium on many deportations, which had gone into effect on Friday before Texas sued. The temporary restraining order is in effect for 14 days as the case proceeds.

On Jan. 20, the Biden administration issued a pause on deportations for many undocumented immigrants who have final orders of removal. The memo states that the 100-day pause applies to all noncitizens with final deportation orders except those who have engaged in a suspected act of terrorism, people not in the US before Nov. 1, 2020, or those who have voluntarily agreed to waive any right to remain in the US.

But Tipton said the memo issued by David Pekoske, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, appeared likely to violate the Administrative Procedures Act and that it was not adequately reasoned or explained.

“Here, the January 20 Memorandum not only fails to consider potential policies more limited in scope and time, but it also fails to provide any concrete, reasonable justification for a 100-day pause on deportations,” he wrote, while adding that Texas had shown evidence it would suffer if Biden’s moratorium was not blocked.

Tipton said Texas had demonstrated “that it pays millions of dollars annually to provide social services and uncompensated healthcare expenses and other state-provided benefits to illegal aliens such as the Emergency Medicaid program, the Family Violence Program, and the Texas Children’s Health Insurance Program.”

The state claimed that those costs would rise if the moratorium continued.

But Pratheepan Gulasekaram, an immigration law professor at Santa Clara University Law School, said the decision appeared to be vulnerable to an appeal.

“Federal administrations can and should be able to set their own enforcement policy as long as it is not forbidden by federal law. This allows a state to stop the federal government from reassigning resources and personnel and deciding the optimal level of enforcement,” he said. “This is not the way our federalism in the constitution is structured. States don’t have veto ability.”

See here for the background. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, who notes that Judge Tipton admitted his own ignorance of immigration law in the ruling, goes into some detail.

There are several remarkable aspects of Tipton’s decision. First, it applies nationwide—even though conservative jurists and Republican politicians spent the last four years decrying nationwide injunctions as illicit and unlawful. Trump’s Department of Justice launched a campaign against these injunctions, complaining that they unconstitutionally interfered with executive power. Right-wing judges condemned them as lawless power-grabs that promote “gamesmanship and chaos.” Republican lawmakers proposed legislation bringing them to a heel. Intellectuals in the conservative legal movement accused “resistance judges” of using them to sabotage the president. Now, six days into Biden’s term, a conservative judge has issued a nationwide injunction at the behest of a Republican politician.

Second, it is extremely difficult to determine the harm that Biden’s memo inflicted on Texas—and, by extension, why the state has standing to bring this case at all. In his lawsuit, Paxton failed to identify any concrete harm to Texas that actually flows from the deportation pause. Instead, he rehashed general complaints about the state’s expenditures on immigrants eligible for deportation—using estimations from 2018—and asked the court to assume that Biden’s memo would raise these costs. Paxton offered zero evidence that this specific memo would raise costs to Texas. Tipton gave the state standing anyway.

Third, and most importantly, Tipton’s decision is utterly divorced from both the entire framework of federal law governing deportation and the removal system as it functions on the ground. The thrust of Tipton’s reasoning is that a federal statute says the government “shall remove” an immigrant who has been “ordered removed” within 90 days. But, as the Supreme Court recognized as recently as last June, federal law also gives DHS sweeping discretion to determine which immigrants to deport, and when. A slew of statutes and regulations recognize this authority and address immigrants who are not removed within 90 days, a clear signal that this deadline is not, in fact, an iron rule.

Moreover, the deportation process is complex and time-consuming: It involves not only legal appeals but also tedious pragmatic considerations, like how an immigrant will actually be transported out of the country. The government has to plan this transportation on a mass scale, and it does not have a travel agency at its disposal that can guarantee an international flight full of deported immigrants within 90 days or your money back.

In short, if immigration law meant what Tipton says it does, then every president has violated it every day of their term, including the one who appointed him. Luckily, it does not. And there is therefore a very good reason to doubt that Tipton’s order will cause many, if any, deportations. The judge blocked Biden’s general policy of non-enforcement—but he did not, and could not, force the government to actually ensure that every immigrant who is eligible for removal be deported within 90 days. Biden’s DHS can merely exercise its authority to pause deportations on an immigrant-by-immigrant basis by granting an administrative stay of removal. It can halt travel arrangements and cancel deportation flights. Biden’s memo might be on hold, but it is perfectly lawful for the government to freeze deportations under its existing discretionary powers.

Others noted that the order is pretty limited in scope:

Everyone’s favorite question of standing was also brought up. It was not clear as I was drafting this if the Biden administration was going to ask the judge to put his order on hold, or if they were just going to appeal directly; either way, things may change before this runs in the morning, or shortly thereafter. It’s important to remember that the point of this lawsuit first and foremost is Ken Paxton’s fundraising, which works to his advantage whether he wins or loses. Given that, he may as well lose, that’s all I’m saying. Daily Kos, the Chron, and the Trib have more.

Paxton sues over deportation pause

That didn’t take long.

Best mugshot ever

Three days into the Biden administration, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed his first lawsuit against the federal government. The lawsuit seeks an halt to one of the president’s executive actions on immigration, a 100-day pause on some deportations.

The moratorium, issued the same day as the presidential inauguration, was one of a flurry of early executive actions from the new administration. It is part of a review and reset of enforcement policies within Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agencies as the Biden administration “develops its final priorities,” according to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security.

Paxton said the moratorium violates the U.S. Constitution and various federal and administrative laws, as well as an agreement between Texas and DHS.

“When DHS fails to remove illegal aliens in compliance with federal law, Texas faces significant costs,” reads the complaint, which was filed in federal court in the U.S. Southern District of Texas. “A higher number of illegal aliens in Texas leads to budgetary harms, including higher education and healthcare costs.”

The filing also alleges various other violations, including against posting-and-comment rules, as well as failure to ensure laws are “faithfully executed.” In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security said they were “not able to comment on pending litigation.”

The moratorium excludes any immigrant who is “suspected of terrorism or espionage, or otherwise poses a danger to the national security of the United States,” those who entered after Nov. 1 and those who have voluntarily waived any rights to remain in the country, according to a DHS memo. It also retains an enforcement focus on people who have been convicted of an “aggravated felony” as defined by federal immigration law.

The first question one should ask of any lawsuit filed by Ken Paxton at this time, especially a politically-motivated lawsuit like this one, is whether it has any merit or if it’s just theater designed to rile up the rabble. Neither this story nor the Chron story examines that, though the latter does touch on some of the legal questions.

The case is before U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton, a Trump appointee who took the bench in Corpus Christi last June and previously practiced law in Houston. In a hearing held via Zoom on Friday, Tipton did not immediately rule on Texas’ request for a temporary restraining order. Instead, he said he would take the matter under advisement and vowed to make a decision quickly.

Administration officials did not respond to a request for comment, and a DHS spokesperson declined to comment on pending litigation. But in a memo issued Wednesday, DHS Acting Secretary David Pekoske said the moratorium was implemented as the agency shifts staff and resources at the southwest border, and to protect the health and safety of DHS personnel amid the pandemic.

“We must ensure that our removal resources are directed to the department’s highest enforcement priorities,” Pekoske added.

The order does not apply to noncitizens who: have engaged in or are suspected of terrorism or espionage or who otherwise pose a national security risk; were not in the U.S. before Nov. 1; or voluntarily signed a waiver to rights to remain in the U.S. as long as they’d been given “a meaningful opportunity to access counsel” beforehand. It also gives the acting director the discretion to allow deportations on a case-by-case basis.

The agreement Paxton refers to is one that the department, while still controlled by the Trump administration, signed preemptively with multiple jurisdictions, including the state of Arizona, that required the agency to give them six months to review and submit comments before moving forward on any changes to immigration policy, as Buzzfeed News first reported. The legal enforceability of those documents, however, has yet to be seen.

[…]

In the virtual hearing Friday, Will Thompson, an attorney for the state, argued that the DHS agreement was valid and precluded it from enacting policy changes before the 180-day feedback period has ended. Thompson also said Texas would suffer irreparable harm from the pause on deportations, such as increased education and health care costs for undocumented immigrants.

Department of Justice attorney Adam Kirschner raised several legal arguments for why the agreement is not enforceable, among them that it violated Article II of the Constitution by giving Texas, at least for 180 days, “veto power over immigration law,” which is within the jurisdiction of the federal government. Kirschner also said the state failed to identify injury that the policy would cause, other than “general budgetary concerns.”

At least you have an idea what they’re arguing about, but it’s still pretty dry. Daily Kos gets more into the merits.

Paxton “says Biden administration is violating the agreement TX signed w/ Trump’s DHS, which said the agency would check in with Texas before making changes,” BuzzFeed News’ Hamed Aleazis tweeted. Paxton’s threat demands DHS immediately rescind the memo, as well as “an immediate response or we will seek relief to enjoin your order, as contemplated by the Agreement.”

To put it plainly, Ken Paxton can eat shit. Legal experts like Santa Clara University School of Law professor Pratheepan Gulasekaram have criticized the agreements, calling them “completely unmoored from legal, constitutional ways of implementing policy,” BuzzFeed News previously reported. “The agreements, as Ken Paxton well knows, are blatantly illegal,” tweeted Aaron Reichlin-Melnick. “Of course, that’s never stopped him before. The Biden administration seems likely to take the correct step here; tell him to pound sand. The federal government can’t contract away its right to make policy changes.”

Not to mention that Cuccinelli was unlawfully installed at DHS! A federal court had already previously ruled that the truly very strange Cuccinelli had also been unlawfully appointed to head U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Reichlin-Melnick noted at the time that the previous administration had since dropped its appeal of that ruling, yet was still “letting him go to work every day.” Perhaps because they knew he’d be willing to put his signature to ridiculous policies like the one now trying to tie up the new administration.

The full thread is here, and you should also read this thread by Buzzfeed News immigration reporter Hamed Aleaziz, who suggests that federal judge Tipton could put the Biden order on hold as the suit is being heard. The ACLU and ACLU of Texas have filed an amicus brief in opposition to Paxton’s suit. This may be an early test of just how much Trump-appointed judges will abet in acting as roadblocks to anything President Biden wants to do.

“I’m haunted by their eyes”

We should all be haunted, and outraged, by this.

Immigrants held in a McAllen-area U.S. Customs and Border Patrol processing center for migrants — the largest such center in America — are living in overcrowded spaces and sometimes are forced to sleep outside a building where the water “tastes like bleach,” according to an attorney who recently interviewed some of the migrants.

“It was so bad that the mothers would save any bottled water they could get and use that to mix the baby formula,” attorney Toby Gialluca told The Texas Tribune on Saturday.

But when she recalls the conditions described to her by the immigrants she interviewed at McAllen’s Centralized Processing Center, Gialluca said she goes back to one thing.

“Their eyes. I’m haunted by their eyes,” Gialluca said.

Gialluca and a slew of other lawyers have been meeting with children and young mothers at facilities across the state this month as pro bono attorneys. At the McAllen Center, Gialluca said everyone she spoke with said they sought out Border Patrol agents after crossing the Rio Grande so they could request asylum.

Gialluca said the migrants, all from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, told her they aren’t receiving proper medical care and children don’t have enough clean clothes. Unable to clean themselves, young mothers reported wiping their children’s runny noses or vomit with their own clothing, Gialluca said. There aren’t sufficient cups or baby bottles, so many are reused or shared.

“Basic hygiene just doesn’t exist there,” Gialluca said. “It’s a health crisis … a manufactured health crisis,” she said.

[…]

On Saturday, state Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, issued a letter to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission inquiring about the reportedly inhumane conditions at a Clint facility where another group of lawyers told the Associated Press about a group of 250 infants, children and teens who spent nearly a month without adequate food, water and sanitation.

Attorneys who visited the El Paso-area station said they found at least 15 children sick with the flu and described a sick and diaperless 2-year-old boy, whose “shirt was smeared in mucus,” being taken care of by three girls all under 15.

“HHSC has a responsibility to these children and individuals to ensure they are receiving, at a minimum, basic care,” Alvarado wrote, acknowledging that the facilities are managed at a federal level, but still imploring the state to do more. “As these facilities are in our state, the conditions under which they operate is a reflection of our values and commitment to the humane treatment of all within our borders.”

There are a lot of elected officials in this state who support passing laws greatly restricting access to abortion because they say they believe in the sanctity of life. Most of those same officials oppose laws that grant equal treatment under the law to LGBTQ people, and support laws that allow “sincerely held religious beliefs” to be a legal reason to not do business with LGBTQ people, because they believe that LGBTQ people are engaged in immoral behavior. These same elected officials, who care so much about life and morality, don’t have so much as an unkind word to say about the appalling, inhumane treatment of thousands of people, many of them children and babies, right here in Texas. I don’t know why any moral authority is granted to these officials, whose names include Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, Ken Paxton, John Cornyn, Ted Cruz, Chip Roy, Dan Crenshaw, Ron Wright, Lois “Bathroom Bill” Kolkhorst, Jonathan “Former Fetus” Stickland, Tony “Death Penalty For Abortion” Tinderholt, and many many more. They have clearly shown that they don’t deserve it.

UPDATE: In addition to voting all of these useless assholes out of office, you can donate to or volunteer for any of these organizations if you want to help do something about this.

Butterflies versus the wall

Go, butterflies!

The National Butterfly Center in South Texas sent a certified letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Wednesday stating its intent to sue over the construction of a border wall on its private property.

In July, Marianna Trevino-Wright, executive director of the center, discovered private contractors working for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) using chainsaws on protected habitat and widening a roadway on the center’s property to make way for the wall.

The letter alleges this is a violation of the center’s private property rights. Though exceptions exist for government workers maintaining levees for flood control, the National Butterfly Center’s attorney says the “conduct is outside the scope” of those permissions. “The express purpose of this entry and destruction is to enable the construction of a border wall,” the letter reads.

“This is a much bigger issue than the National Butterfly Center,” Jeffrey Glassberg, president of the nonprofit, told the Observer in August. “There’s a procedure the government could follow with due process. But they’ve decided — like with so much else — to just ignore the law, trampling on private property rights. The complete disrespect for the legalities of this country is something that ought to concern every American regardless of how they feel about a border wall.”

You can see a copy of the letter at the link. We didn’t need this reason to oppose the wall, but we’ll take it.

Lawsuit filed over Muslim ban documents

From the inbox:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit [Wednesday] demanding government documents about the on-the-ground implementation of President Trump’s Muslim ban.

Today’s action is part of a total of 13 FOIA lawsuits filed by ACLU affiliates across the country. The ACLU of Texas lawsuit is seeking records from U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Houston Field Office.  In particular, the lawsuit seeks records related to CBP’s implementation of President Trump’s Muslim ban at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and Dallas Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW). The ACLU first sought this information through FOIA requests submitted to CBP on February 6. The ACLU is now suing because, other than acknowledging receipt of the request, the government has failed to respond.

“Transparency and accountability in our government are fundamental marks of a vibrant democracy,” said Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney of the ACLU of Texas. “If our government is to be truly of the people, by the people, and for the people, the American public needs to know what goes on behind the veil of federal agencies. FOIA gives us that right. And with this lawsuit, we expect to find out more about CBP’s role in carrying out the Muslim ban.”

“President Trump has tried twice to force his unconstitutional and ham-fisted Muslim ban on the public, and twice American courts have had to remind him — swiftly — that he is not above the law,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “CBP’s refusal to comply with our FOIA requests indicates that not everyone in the Trump administration got the message. But we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure that CBP respects our laws, as well as the people — all of the people — they protect.”

“CBP has a long history of ignoring its obligations under the federal Freedom of Information Act — a law that was enacted to ensure that Americans have timely access to information of pressing public concern. The public has a right to know how federal immigration officials have handled the implementation of the Muslim bans, especially after multiple federal courts have blocked various aspects of these executive orders,” said Mitra Ebadolahi, Border Litigation Project Staff Attorney with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

Each lawsuit seeks unique and local information regarding how CBP implemented the executive orders at specific airports and ports of entry in the midst of rapidly developing and sometimes conflicting government guidance.

The coordinated lawsuits seek information from the following local CBP offices:

Atlanta
Baltimore
Boston
Chicago
Detroit
Houston
Los Angeles
Miami
Portland
San Diego
San Francisco
Seattle
Tampa
Tucson

All of the affiliate FOIA lawsuits will be available here:
https://www.aclu.org/other/aclu-cbp-foia-lawsuits-regarding-muslim-ban-implementation

This release can be found here:
https://www.aclutx.org/en/press-releases/aclu-texas-files-lawsuit-demanding-documents-implementation-trump-muslim-ban

The ACLU national release is here:
https://www.aclu.org/news/aclu-files-lawsuits-demanding-local-documents-implementation-trump-muslim-ban

The ACLU national release on the original FOIA requests is here:
https://www.aclu.org/news/aclu-files-demands-documents-implementation-trumps-muslim-ban

The ACLU of Texas release on the original FOIA request from is here:
https://www.aclutx.org/en/press-releases/aclu-texas-files-demands-documents-implementation-trumps-muslim-ban

More background on CBP’s FOIA practices is here:
https://www.aclu.org/letter/aclu-letter-cbp-re-foia-practices-july-2016

Here’s a Chron story about the lawsuit. Given what a debacle this all was (and still is), we deserve to know exactly what happened and to whom.

Nothing says “holiday season” like immigration raids

How festive.

Immigration agents are planning to round up Central American families that have been ordered deported by a judge in response to an unexpected surge in children and families crossing the border in South Texas, a former high-ranking immigration official said Thursday.

Alonzo Peña, the deputy director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2009 and 2010, said officials are concerned because the number of families crossing the border usually slows down this time of year, yet Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley have seen an increase in recent months.

The Border Patrol apprehended about 50,000 children and families in 2015 in the Rio Grande Valley, down from about 100,000 in 2014, but the number of apprehensions has spiked since September, according to Border Patrol statistics.

“The numbers for this time of year, normally they drop, and they’re continuing to surge and increase,” Peña said. “They’ve got to figure out ways to send a message that the gates are not open, the doors are not open and it’s not a free pass. And they’re concentrating on those that have final orders, who have exhausted their due process.”

ICE regularly conducts what it calls targeted enforcement operations, in which agents round up immigrants who fall under the agency’s priorities for deportation, including those who recently crossed the border, those convicted of crimes and those who have been ordered removed by an immigration judge. This would be the first such operation specifically targeting families.

News of the planned raids, first published by the Washington Post, which reported they would likely happen in January but hadn’t received final approval, drew criticism from activists. Hundreds of immigrants might be targeted, the newspaper reported.

“Such a roundup would be a nightmare for those families and for our claim to being a nation of refuge,” Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration advocacy group America’s Voice, said in a written statement.

Here’s that WaPo story. Some of this may sound reasonable, but ICE’s track record is lousy, and the so-called “family detention centers” we use are horrible, for-profit jails being used to warehouse children. And not to be crass about it, but the politics of this are awful for Democratic Presidential candidates trying to draw clear distinctions between themselves and the deport-em-all GOP frontrunners. This is a bad idea, and we really need to rethink what we are doing here. ThinkProgress and TPM have more.

Catching up on United versus Southwest

There have been a few news stories of interest since we first heard about the Southwest Airlines plan for international flights at Hobby Airport, which is being vigorously opposed by United, who wants to keep IAH as the only international airport in Houston. United has a couple of Congressmen on their side.

In this corner...

Two local congressmen have asked Mayor Annise Parker not to turn Hobby Airport into an international operation because they are concerned Houston would not get sufficient customs staffing to avoid long delays for international travelers.

The opposition of U.S. Reps. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, and Al Green, D-Houston, casts doubt on whether Houston should become a two-international-airport city, even if city-commissioned studies indicate it would be an economic boon.

In a letter sent to Parker this week, Brady and Green echo an argument made by United Airlines, which has been lobbying against the project at City Hall, saying they oppose equipping Hobby with a federal inspection services facility because they fear it will divert customs officers from Bush Intercontinental. Resulting delays, United argues, will cause international passengers to book flights through another hub.

Brady and Green argue that an international Hobby would “divert, not increase” the number of customs officers in Houston.

[…]

In his annual State of the Airports address Thursday, [Houston Airport System Director Mario] Diaz lamented what he described as persistently low customs staffing at Bush Intercontinental.

Last week, Diaz told the Houston Chronicle that if council approved an international Hobby, “the city could make a very, very good argument that those (customs) services should be enhanced.” Several times on Thursday, Diaz acknowledged the challenge in lobbying for federal funding.

“If we can make the correct understanding to the Appropriations Committee that (we need more) Customs and Border Protection … staffing, they’ll have to find something else that they may be able to cut, but that’s a budget problem,” Diaz said.

The story quotes an expert who notes that the level of Customs agent staffing at a given airport is determined by the demand for international passenger arrivals at that airport. Keep all that in mind for now.

This story questioned the effect on air fares of Southwest’s arrival on the international scene.

And in this corner...

According to data compiled by Hotwire.com, average airfares from Houston to Cancun and other Mexican destinations have increased steadily since March 2009 and were higher across the board last month than they were in 2007 before the onset of the recession and also in 2008 when record high-oil prices jacked up all types of airfares.

High-priced oil also factors in the escalating fares now, along with an improving economy.

Average airfare from Houston to Cancun last month was $630, compared to $495 a year ago.

[…]

Airfare analysts say the increased competition probably would bring fares down to some extent, but probably not as drastically as fliers are envisioning.

Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com, said Southwest probably would start out by offering sales reducing fares up to 40 percent and then “settle down” a few months later into a price range reducing fares 5 to 10 percent.

Still, he said, “when you add capacity to a route, prices are going to be lower.”

But with high jet fuel prices and tougher competition from merged mega-carriers like Delta and United, which are able to charge higher fares on certain routes where there is less competition, it’s not as easy for Southwest to offer the startlingly low fares that made it famous as the country’s pioneering domestic budget carrier.

“A lot of those things that allowed Southwest to keep the price points really low are not as easy today,” Seaney said, noting that it depends on how intent Southwest is “to make a stronghold.”

“My guess is since this is the first time Southwest would actually be flying international, it’d be top on their priority list,” he said.

If that’s not good enough for you, Southwest is now making the job creation pitch in their favor.

Opening Hobby Airport to commercial international flights will create 10,000 jobs, bring 1.6 million more air travelers through Houston annually and inject an additional $1.6 billion a year into the local economy, according to a Southwest Airlines executive who has seen city-commissioned studies on the matter.

“We’re asking for an opportunity to invest $100 million in a new building in your city to provide more passengers, 1.6 million a year, a huge economic gain for the city,” Ron Ricks, executive vice president and chief legal and regulatory officer for Southwest Airlines, told the Houston Chronicle editorial board Tuesday.

[…]

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said repeatedly at the editorial board meeting that Southwest is not asking for any city investment in the terminal expansion and Customs facility addition to Hobby. The $100 million cost of the project is to be covered by debt backed by Southwest and paid off through ticket surcharges.

Clark said Customs waits at IAH are among the worst in the nation. “If Houston can secure additional agents, they should be deployed to address the chronic understaffing IAH experiences every day,” Clark said.

But Ricks asked, “Is Houston going to let 20 Customs agents stand in the way of a $1.6 billion-a-year economic impact? If we can’t solve finding 20 Customs agents in this economy, then Houston, we do have a problem.” Ricks said staffing is covered by a $17.50-per-international passenger fee.

Kelly said he believes Southwest’s entry into the Houston market will drive down prices and increase passengers at both airports.

“If you make the air fares affordable, the people will fly – a gigantic increase. We’re arguing to you the pie is going to increase,” Kelly said.

United says “Nuh uh!” in response to that:

United Airlines officials said Wednesday that allowing international commercial flights at Hobby Airport would force the carrier to cut 1,300 Houston jobs and dozens of flights from Bush Intercontinental Airport, and that city-paid consultants and Southwest Airlines are using unrealistic data to support the proposal.

In a letter to Mayor Annise Parker on Wednesday, United CEO Jeff Smisek said “the assumptions that underlie the analysis are so contrived it is clear they were designed to reach a predetermined conclusion.”

Smisek said United is commissioning its own study and urged Parker to “delay this decision, which you agree will impact Houston’s aviation industry and economic future for decades to come.”

Golly, couldn’t United mitigate those job losses by moving all the people they relocated to Chicago after the “merger” back to Houston? I’m just saying.

Nene Foxhall, United’s executive vice president of communications and government affairs, said if the Hobby proposal goes through, the airline will have to rethink proceeding with the next stage of an expansion project at Bush Intercontinental’s Terminal B – a potential $1 billion investment.

United claims that Southwest’s study was made on excessively optimistic assumptions. I have no trouble believing that, but I’m not particularly inclined to give United and its blackmail attempt a whole lot of credence.

Smisek says in his letter, which you can see here, that United “welcomes competition from AirTran, Southwest and all carriers for international service at IAH, where there are ample gates and facilities.” And with that, I turn the blog over to Tiffany once again for her long-awaited followup analysis:

First, thanks to all who responded favorably to my previous guest post. And yes, it’s been more than a weekend since I promised to write a follow-up. Unlike my spouse, I’m not conditioned to getting up at 5 am daily to create blog content, so it took me a while to work this in.

I’ve been reading with interest the “debate” around whether or not creating an international terminal at Hobby would be dilutive to the US Customs presence at Intercontinental. I’ve seen numerous comments from people saying things like, “the lines are too long at IAH as it is, this will only make it worse! They’ll take agents away!”

This got me thinking about the real numbers involved in the lines at International arrivals. Basically, it’s a function of how many people are getting off the plane at once. A busy airport like IAH has multiple flights coming in at the same time, especially when long haul flights from Europe and Asia arrive. An international terminal at Hobby would, at least in the beginning, have a much smaller number of flights and no 747s dumping 450 people at a time on Customs and Border Protection. Do the math:

The proposed Hobby scenario is 25 flights a day at 5 gates. The average capacity of a 737 in the Southwest fleet is 137 people. Southwest flies ONLY 737s. Even if they added the biggest, baddest 737 out there to give themselves greater range or capacity, they will top out at about 180 passengers. So 25 flights a day, spread over 10 hours – we’ll be generous and say 3 flights an hour, then round up capacity and say 500 people an hour through customs at Hobby, closer to 600 if they go with new 737-900ERs. This number is too large, in any real sense, but keep it in mind as we continue our mental math.

Compare that to IAH, where United and all of the other international carriers land something like at least twice that number of flights an hour (peak times when long haul flights come in from Europe or Asia) with an average capacity of a 747 or a 777 at 450 passengers PER PLANE. Look at the data, which I have taken straight from the Customs and Border Protection website, which can generate this handy table for any date range you select. This one is for 1 January 2011 to 1 January 2012.

So at peak times, Border Protection sees an average of 1100 or more people an hour through IAH. That makes our 500 passengers an hour through Hobby seem crazy-big. But stay with me. The data from CBP can’t be cut by day of the week, so I can’t tell if it’s appreciably worse on certain days. I’ve been on enough overnight flights to be leery of the low averages between 8 and 10 am, for instance. If you look at just 2 of the arrival schedules for cities in question with the proposed Southwest expansion, Mexico City and Cancun, as pulled from the handy schedule tool at http://fly2houston.com/:

You can see that United doesn’t bring in more than one 737 from either departure city before noon (at least on a Wednesday, the day I pulled the data). The majority of the flights come in during those peak average hours on the CBP chart. So it’s unclear to me that taking some passengers OUT of those IAH averages would be a bad thing. Given that the IAH Master Plan for 2011 (the last one available on their website) is estimating a 3.9% annual growth rate in international travel alone between now and 2015, and diversion of traffic from Cleveland when United (probably) draws down that hub in favor of Chicago, it seems to me there is still PLENTY of growth going on at IAH to sustain demand for international flights, even if you add a potential 500 passengers an hour that could go through Hobby instead.

The advantage I’d see for potential international travelers at Hobby, and frankly for CBP as well, is that at least in the short run, Southwest would be the only international carrier at Hobby, and for that length of time, the average number of passengers coming through per hour would be highly predictable and consistent. That would make staffing easy to model, and certainly have a smaller swing from valley to peak than they have at IAH. As a traveler, I’m having a hard time seeing a downside with this.

The funding mechanism for Customs agents has always seemed opaque to me. On the one hand, United is claiming that IAH is already understaffed and opening Hobby would take agents away form IAH. This presumes the number of customs agents in a city airport system is a zero sum game. Of course United also contended that they didn’t have an issue with Southwest flying internationally as long as they do it out of IAH, which as I’ve shown above is absolutely silly in terms of wait times for the passengers. If they could add more agents to IAH to handle that added traffic, why couldn’t they add agents at a new airport, making passengers at IAH no worse off, and possibly with an improved option for lower fares and reduced customs wait times at Hobby relative to IAH?

This all presumes that new aircraft types don’t drastically change the throughput of arrivals in the IAH customs hall independent of anything Southwest might or might not do, of course. Surely United wouldn’t be planning to add more folks to what is already an overcrowded CBP system, right? That’s what they’re trying to protect us all from! And yet, look at the data. According to Boeing’s order book, the old Continental ordered 25 787s and United ordered 25. It’s true that I can’t tell where these planes are INTENDED to go in the United Route system, or even if those 50 orders are still “firm” in Boeing’s books, but think about it for a few minutes. This aircraft is slightly larger than the 737 (210-290 passengers, depending on configuration), with a range suited for flights between, say Houston and Delhi, India. Imagine the customs issue at IAH when you add 75 extra people per flight.

But you might be more concerned about the Airbus order book. The A380 holds 525 passengers. Imagine IAH at peak hours with 525 people on each of the BA, Air France and Emirates flights and not the 450 currently on a 747. You won’t have to wait long to see what it will feel like. Lufthansa is bringing the A380 to IAH beginning this August, and that Frankfurt flight lands at about 2 pm, right before a number of those United flights from Mexico.

Color me skeptical about United’s position generally. They may lose some customers, and cut some flights, in response to Southwest opening international service. But even with the newest, longest range 737s, it’s still a 737. And that “fleet commonality” is a huge part of what makes Southwest able to do what they do to control costs. Trust me here, I wrote a doctoral thesis on it. For United, as for American and AeroMexico, the overall risk of passenger loss will go up over time as Southwest expands their schedule past the currently proposed 5 city pairs. But those airlines, with their diversified fleets and deeper, longer route structures (at least for the US-based carriers), will still have plenty of places to go that Southwest can’t get to in a 737, and passengers want to go those places. I find the Customs and Border Protection argument disingenuous, given the pressures already in the customs hall and the growth projections that are already part of the IAH Master Plan and the fleet growth plan of United, insofar as I can guess what it is from the Boeing order book.

It’s the customers who have the most to gain from a Hobby expansion gateway. And as a customer, I’ll bet on Southwest working in my interest before I’ll bet on the “new” United.

So there you have it. And what she didn’t tell you is that she did field work for her thesis with Southwest, Continental, American and Boeing. High time it came in handy. In any event, we should get those long-awaited reports Monday – the recommendation from HAS Director Mario Diaz about whether or not to expand Hobby, and the city’s economic impact studies – to be followed by discussion and eventually a Council vote on what to do. A statement from the Texas Organizing Project calling on the city to ensure all voices are heard in this process is here.