U.S. government sues Texas over obstacles that put migrants 3:26

(CNN) — There is a tendency to look at the different elements of immigration in isolation.

  • The U.S. Justice Department is suing Texas over its unilateral decision to put floating barriers along the border.
  • New York and other cities say they are overwhelmed by buses with migrants arriving from the border.
  • In the absence of congressional action, court decisions are setting U.S. border policy.

However, all elements are interrelated.

I spoke with CNN's Priscilla Alvarez to find out what her perspective is as a White House reporter with extensive experience reporting on all aspects of immigration. Our conversation, via email, appears below. And don't miss Tuesday's report: Federal judge blocks Biden's controversial asylum policy and deals a blow to his administration.

The lawsuit against Texas over floating barriers

Wolf: The U.S. government sued Texas to remove floating barriers on the Rio Grande. But this is just the latest in a series of escalating measures Texas has taken on its own to keep migrants out of the country. What is the situation at the border?

Alvarez: The handling of the U.S.-Mexico border has long been a point of contention between President (Joe) Biden and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has argued that the federal administration has not done enough to guard the border.


  • Texas Deploys Floating Barrier on Rio Grande to Prevent Migrants from Crossing U.S.-Mexico Border

As an affront to Biden's border policies, Abbott transported migrants from Texas to Democratic-led cities without coordinating with local officials there, deployed more personnel to the Texas-Mexico border and, earlier this month, installed buoys on the Rio Grande.

Historically, border agents have worked closely with the Texas National Guard and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). However, recent measures taken by the state have made day-to-day operations difficult.

  • Texas police pushed migrants back into the Rio Grande and ordered them not to give them water amid soaring temperatures, report says.

The DPS made it difficult to access certain parts of the Texas-Mexico border, marking a gap in the coordination that previously existed among law enforcement. Agents on the ground have also sent regular reports to U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters on what they've observed while Abbott's operation is underway, a Homeland Security official told me.

But alarming images of injured migrants and troubling reports that Texas troops have pushed people back into Mexico forced the Biden administration to take action.

  • Two pregnant migrants told CNN Texas National Guard soldiers denied them water

Last week, the Justice Department said it is assessing the situation along the Texas-Mexico border. On Monday, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit over a different, but related, matter: the installation of a floating barrier. The lawsuit contends that Texas did not seek authorization before locating the buoys on the Rio Grande and that this poses a threat to navigation.

  • Biden Administration Sues Texas to Force Removal of Floating Buoy Barrier on Rio Grande

That court battle could take months to unfold. Meanwhile, it could fuel tensions between agents and troops on the ground, and further escalate the feud between Biden and Abbott.

Why there was no increase in migrants as expected

Wolf: You've written about how the expected surge in migrants never materialized once the implementation of Title 42, a covid-19-era policy, ended. What happened?

Alvarez: Let's give some context first. Immigration often comes and goes.

However, the Biden administration has had to deal with a massive and unprecedented movement of people in the Western Hemisphere, which is partly the result of the coronavirus pandemic that decimated conditions in the region.

The government relied on a public health order, known as Title 42, to quickly expel migrants back to Mexico or their home countries. That measure had been invoked under the administration of former President (Donald) Trump and used to turn away migrants, including asylum seekers, at the U.S.-Mexico border on public health grounds.

  • White House Steps Up Efforts to Curb Migration in America, Taking Advantage of Decreased Irregular Border Crossings

In the days before Title 42 implementation ended, thousands of migrants attempted to cross the southern U.S. border, knowing they could face tougher penalties after the measure ended, including bans on re-entry into the United States.

And that, in fact, has been the case. Increased deportations and stricter policies, along with other new legal pathways into the United States, appear to have reduced the number of people trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

In June, for example, the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended nearly 100,000 migrants along the southern border, marking a decrease from May and representing the lowest monthly number of border encounters since February 2021, according to CBP data.

Moving Migrants to Distant Cities in the U.S.

Wolf: Away from the border in Texas, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, after welcoming migrants by bus, has insisted with increasing urgency that the city is packed. Migrants are now also transported by bus to Los Angeles. What is the latest in this relocation strategy?

Alvarez: Migrant transport is still happening. Since last year, Texas has bussed more than 27,000 migrants to 6 cities, according to Abbott's office. Cities include Washington, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver and Los Angeles.

  • Fourth bus with migrants sent from Texas to Los Angeles

One of the main problems with transporting migrants to these cities that officials often warn about is the lack of coordination. The governor's office generally does not notify cities that migrants are on their way, leaving border NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) to try to fill the information gap.

  • New York City to Issue 60-Day Eviction Notices to Thousands of Migrants in Shelter System

However, it is important to note that migrants who are released from government custody have been screened and processed by federal authorities and are released as they move through immigration court proceedings. An immigration judge ultimately decides whether a migrant has grounds to remain in the United States or is ordered removed.

Who is really trying to solve this problem?

Wolf: All of these things are related: Texas' efforts to create its own border policy, the difficulty New York and cities face in dealing with the influx of immigrants. It's all fueled by the lack of more comprehensive immigration reform. Is there any movement in Congress to deal with all of this holistically?

Alvarez: Both parties have introduced bills addressing the immigration system. Texas Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales, for example, proposed legislation addressing work visa programs, among other aspects of the system. But it's such a divisive issue that legislation is struggling to move forward.

Both parties are so far apart on the issue, although Democrats and Republicans acknowledge that the U.S. immigration system is broken, they cannot agree on how to fix it.

Without comprehensive reform, the federal government must implement a patchwork of policies and then play defensive when lawsuits are filed against it, often resulting in political whiplash.

U.S.-Mexico BorderInmigranteJoe BidenTexas