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Rest stop for the weary

Ruling allows Texas ministry to continue to serve migrants

Sister Norma Pimentel inside Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley Associated Press/Photo by David J. Phillip (file)

Rest stop for the weary

A Texas ministry can continue its work after federal judge on Thursday barred Texas Gov. Greg Abbott from enforcing an executive order prohibiting it from transporting migrants.

In a 19-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone, a George W. Bush appointee, sided with U.S. Department of Justice lawyers, concluding Abbott’s late July executive order violated the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution by interfering with federal immigration law. That came as a relief to South Texas Catholics who help up to 1,000 migrants each day with food, clothing, a place to rest, and basic medical and legal services.

Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley runs the Humanitarian Respite Center in the border town of McAllen, Texas. Sister Norma Pimentel’s team since 2014 has provided support to families and single mothers with children—most dropped at the doorstep by U.S. Border Patrol agents. They transfer those who test positive for COVID-19 to quarantine facilities, but Abbott’s order would have cut short that service.

The order—ostensibly to prevent the spread of COVID-19—barred any private person or organization from transporting migrants detained for crossing the border illegally. Texas law enforcement officials could stop vehicles they suspected of transporting migrants and reroute them to their point of origin. If anyone refused, officials could impound their vehicle.

Cardone rejected the state’s health risk argument. “Texas’ single anecdotal example of noncitizens posing a public health risk—a migrant family apparently coughing without wearing masks in a restaurant—is not sufficient evidence that the order will be effective in combating COVID-19 in Texas,” she concluded.

The court didn’t address religious liberty concerns, but the Catholic charity’s ability to freely exercise its Christian beliefs was at the heart of Becket Law attorney Eric Rassbach’s friend-of the court brief.

“The governor should never have stood between the church and suffering souls,” Rassbach said. “We are glad that the court’s ruling means that the Respite Center and Sister Pimentel are able to continue their work of providing food, water, and shelter in Jesus’ name.”

Illegal border crossings under the Biden administration have surged to their highest level in two decades according to a Forbes report.

Rassbach said helping migrants and reducing illegal immigration are not at odds. “People of good will on both sides of the immigration issue ought to be able to agree that helping people who are already here is at the core of what religious organizations should do,” he said, adding that “like the tree over Jonah, these people are journeying and need a rest stop.”

Steve West

Steve is a reporter for WORLD. A graduate of World Journalism Institute, he worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor in Raleigh, N.C., where he resides with his wife.



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