Opponents Question if It’s Legal for Abbott to Bus Migrants to DC

Opponents Question if It's Legal for Abbott to Bus Migrants to DC greg abbott speaks into a microphone Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks during the Houston Region Business Coalition's monthly meeting in Houston, Texas, on Oct. 27, 2021. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

By Sandy Fitzgerald | Friday, 08 April 2022 08:53 AM

Gov. Greg Abbott's plan to bus migrants from Texas to Washington, D.C., has been applauded by conservatives, but opponents of the order are questioning whether it's legal for him to send them out of state.

According to Abbott's letter, signed this week to direct the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) to send migrants who have been released from federal custody to the nation's capital, people being bused away must voluntarily agree to the journey, reports The Dallas Morning News.

But some advocacy groups are asking whether the immigrants will think they don't have a choice about getting on the buses, especially if they don't speak English and are in a foreign country, while others say forcibly busing them is a violation of the Constitution.

“When you have uniformed DPS troopers with badges and guns telling refugees who have just been granted freedom ‘Hey this is a bus that will take you to Washington’ are they going to feel like they’re coerced? Is it really voluntary?” Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, commented. "Can you say ‘no’ to somebody with a badge and a uniform and a cowboy hat?”

Kate Huddleston, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas, maintained that Abbott "does not have the power to forcibly bus migrants or anyone else in the state of Texas out of the state to other portions of the country."

She added that the move would be a "blatant violation of the 4th Amendment’s protection against unreasonable seizures because it is literally forcing people to travel thousands of miles… If people are being coerced or if they don’t understand that there are other options and that they don’t have to get on a bus and go to D.C. or wherever in the country Governor Abbott wants to send them then that raises all the constitutional issues that I just described.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, meanwhile, called Abbott's order a "publicity stunt," especially since his office is admitting the immigrants would have to volunteer to make the trip.

"The governor of Texas or any state does not have the legal authority to compel anyone to get on a bus," Psaki said, adding that it is up to the federal government to enforce immigration laws.

The TDEM confirmed Thursday that it has already dispatched buses to the border to respond to requests it's received by local officials who have identified migrants who have been released into their communities.

Seth Christensen, a TDEM spokesman, would not specify who made the requests for the buses or how many have been sent out. The first buses have been prepared for the trip with provisions such as ready-to-eat meals, water, and security included.

He said the state will obtain consent from the migrants through a form that will be offered in both English and Spanish.

Huddleston acknowledged that the people Abbott plans to transport are allowed to travel to other parts of the United States, as they have been released by federal authorities and are free to move about while they're waiting for their court appearances.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a call with Texas news media Thursday that Abbott's plan is an "act of frustration" meant to get President Joe Biden's attention, but he knows of nothing that would stop the migrants from coming to Washington D.C. if they choose to travel.

"I’m sorry it’s come to this but I don’t know what else Governor Abbott can do," Cornyn said.

Lora Ries, director of the border security and immigration center at the Heritage Foundation, said she doesn't see any legal issues if the migrants are volunteering to travel and the state is offering them a ride.

"He’s trying to be responsive and take care of his Texans and I just wish the president would do the same for all Americans," she said.