The United States Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the Biden administration could set enforcement priorities for immigration officials. This is particularly relevent to immigration court proceedings. It allows the government to decide which undocumented immigrants to arrest and which to leave alone. The decision rejected a lawsuit brought by two conservative states that argued for more aggressive enforcement and thus handing a major victory to President Biden.
The dispute was part of a larger fight between Mr. Biden, who has struggled to find a just solution to the humanitarian challenge at our southern border, and Republican-led states, which have repeatedly fought to stop the administration’s immigration
agenda by contesting policy after policy in the courts. In it’s decision the Supreme Court acknowledged the difficulty of the problem and the important role the executive branch must play in solving it.
In deciding that the states, Texas and Louisiana, lacked standing to sue, the majority, by an 8-to-1 vote, sent a powerful signal to state governments that challenge immigration measures, an area that has largely been the federal government’s domain. More generally, the decision set new limits on lawsuits filed by states to challenge federal policies, which have increased in the last decade.
“If the court greenlighted this suit,” Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote “we could anticipate complaints in future years about alleged executive branch under-enforcement of any similarly worded laws — whether they be drug laws, gun laws, obstruction of justice laws or the like. We decline to start the federal judiciary down that uncharted path.”
The guidelines, issued in 2021 by the Homeland Security Department, set priorities for which unauthorized immigrants should be arrested and focused on “national security, public safety and border security.”
The Biden administration sought to undo the aggressive and over broad policies of the Trump administration, which promised to “take the shackles” off Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and said everyone in the country without legal documentation could be targeted for deportation. Under its guidelines, the Biden administration said, ICE would instead focus on national security threats and those who had recently crossed the border.
In the final years of the Obama administration, ICE agents prioritized undocumented immigrants with criminal histories. This resulted in the closing of thousands of immigration court matters in an effort to lighten the load of that overburdened agency. Before the decline in deportations that resulted, Mr. Obama carried out more than 409,000 removals in 2012, prompting immigration advocates to call him the “deporter in chief.”
“I think it was a big mistake,” Mr. Biden said of the Obama-era deportation of so many non criminal immigrants. Republicans, however, have pointed to the new guidelines, as well as record crossings at the southwestern border, to portray Biden as weak on law and order.
Texas and Louisiana sued to reject the Biden guidelines, which they claimed allowed many immigrants with criminal records to remain free while their cases moved forward, violating a federal law that they said made detention of these individuals mandatory.
Ultimately, the court did not address the question of whether the Biden administration was complying with its legal obligations under the immigration laws and ruled only that the challengers, Texas and Louisiana, lacked standing to pursue the question.
If you have an immigration court matter pending now please call our office to discuss how this decision may affect you going forward.
Law Office of Todd Becraft (213) 388-1821