BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) -- A federal judge in Texas denied Wednesday a conservative activist's request for an emergency stay to stop the government from transporting immigrants who entered the country illegally in South Texas to other states or releasing them on their own recognizance.
In a complaint filed in July, Orly Taitz argued that by sending immigrant children and families to various states while South Texas was overwhelmed by an immigration surge, the U.S. government created a public health risk. She called for a two-month quarantine and medical screening for all immigrants detained after entering the country.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen on Wednesday told the dentist and lawyer from Rancho Santa Margarita, California, that she could refile an amended complaint. He said he was denying her request for an emergency stay because he was not convinced the lawsuit would succeed with Taitz as the plaintiff.
"The only way I see this going forward beyond this next step is that you're going to have some expert support for your damages," Hanen said.
Taitz said that she participates in several programs that provide dental care to new immigrants. She said many of them came in with a persistent cough and she subsequently developed an upper respiratory infection. She also said Border Patrol agents were infected with scabies and chicken pox while handling immigrants.
Taitz is best known as a proponent of the debunked "birther" movement that questions whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States.
The government had sought to have the lawsuit dismissed and indicated Wednesday it would continue to do so. In a court filing, the government called the lawsuit "nothing more than a generalized grievance" and noted that the federal government has broad power in the area of immigration.
From October to July, 63,000 unaccompanied children were arrested after entering the U.S. illegally, double the number from the same period a year earlier. Another 63,000 families -- mothers or fathers with young children -- were arrested during that period.
Those arrests have slowed, however. Arrests of children traveling alone and children and parents traveling together dropped by about half in July from the previous month.
Law requires unaccompanied children be transferred from Border Patrol custody to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement within 72 hours of their arrest. During the surge, Border Patrol stations were clogged with children, forcing the agency to transfer some immigrants from the Rio Grande Valley to other sectors along the Southwest border. Some families were released with orders to appear later before immigration officials.
In Hanen, Taitz found a judge who had voiced his own criticisms of the government's willingness to reunite children who entered the country alone with parents already residing in the U.S. illegally. In an order issued in another case in December, Hanen wrote that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is assisting in criminal conspiracies to smuggle children into the country by doing so.
It was Hanen who asked some of the most pointed questions of the representatives from the federal agencies most directly involved in handling the increase in immigrant children and families during the hearing Wednesday.
Representatives of the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Office of Refugee Resettlement each testified about the medical screenings that immigrants undergo.
Kevin Oaks, the Border Patrol's chief of the Rio Grande Valley sector, conceded that some immigrants with scabies had been transferred to other states but maintained that the agency's screening was effective. Teresa Brooks, who oversees the Office of Refugee Resettlement's operations in the Rio Grande Valley, said she knew of only one case in which a child tested positive for tuberculosis during the immigration surge.
Hanen gave Taitz until Sept. 12 to file an amended complaint.
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