Texas Judge Rules Abbott’s Border Crackdown Unconstitutional (1)

Jan. 14, 2022, 2:24 AM

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s border crackdown -- known as Operation Lone Star -- violates the U.S. Constitution and improperly intrudes on the federal government’s authority to set immigration policy, a Texas state judge ruled.

Judge Jan Soifer invalidated the Republican governor’s signature border policy in the case of an Ecuadorian engineer, Jesus Alberto Guzman Curipoma, according to two lawyers present at a hearing in Austin. The judge ruled from the bench and hasn’t yet issued a written decision.

While Soifer’s ruling applies only to Guzman Curipoma, Kristin Etter, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which represents Guzman Curipoma and about 800 other migrants jailed in South Texas, said it provides a “clear pathway and a blueprint” for similar habeas corpus petitions for hundreds of other detainees. Many of them have “languished for months” in a border town state prison without access to legal help, she said.

Thousands Jailed

Guzman Curipoma, who is seeking asylum in the U.S., is one of thousands of migrants jailed by Texas in recent months for trespassing on private property after crossing the border without authorization.

“The judge said immigration policy is strictly within the purview of the federal government,” Gerry Morris, one of Guzman Curipoma’s lawyers, said in a phone interview after the hearing. “Not liking what the federal government is doing is no reason for the state to make its own policy. She said the U.S. gets to make that determination, not the state.”

A spokeswoman for Abbott indicated the decision will be appealed.

“The district court did not have legal authority to enter this flawed and collusive judgment without hearing from the Office of the Attorney General,” Abbott’s spokeswoman Nan Tolson said in a text message. “There is no doubt that this will be overturned.”

Etter said the majority of the detainees weren’t even on posted private property when they were apprehended.

“They were taken, escorted or called over” to private property by Texas state troopers or National Guardsmen, who then arrested them under a state law that Abbott stretched through executive orders to apply to undocumented immigrants, Etter said in a phone interview after the hearing.

The majority of Operation Lone Star’s detainees were apprehended in Kinney County, which hugs the Rio Grande River about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of Laredo. Kinney County reported more than 2000 criminal trespass arrests as of Jan. 9, Etter said.

The Travis County district attorney sided with the defendant during Thursday’s hearing, so it’s unlikely the county will appeal Soifer’s decision. Etter and Morris said the Texas attorney general’s office unsuccessfully tried to stop the hearing midway through by texting Kinney County’s private attorney, who was informally participating, but the state may not have the legal right to appeal.

“I’m sure this is not the last round,” Morris said. But he said opponents will have to be “creative” to find a way to escalate the case to either the Texas Supreme Court or Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Curipoma v. Texas, D1-GN-22-000058, 345th District Court of Travis County, Texas (Austin)

(Updates with Abbott comment in sixth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story:
Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Orwell, Vermont, at laurel@calkins.us.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Katia Porzecanski at kporzecansk1@bloomberg.net

Joe Schneider

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