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Supreme Court Hands Biden a Rare Win on Immigration Enforcement, Deportations


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WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court handed President Joe Biden a rare win Friday in a major immigration case, ruling that Republican officials in two states who challenged the president’s effort to prioritize some unauthorized immigrants for arrest and detention over others did not have standing to sue.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote for a five-justice majority that included Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson. Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Amy Coney Barrett, wrote an opinion that agreed with the final outcome but for different reasons.

Justice Samul Alito dissented.   

The states, Kavanaugh wrote, “want a federal court to order the executive branch to alter its arrest policies so as to make more arrests. Federal courts have not traditionally entertained that kind of lawsuit; indeed, the states cite no precedent for a lawsuit like this.”

What was the latest Biden immigration case about?

◾ At issue in U.S. v. Texas was a Biden memorandum from 2021 that focused enforcement on immigrants who pose a threat to national security, public safety, or who recently crossed the border. The administration says it wanted to prioritize those immigrants because it doesn’t have the resources to remove everyone in the country illegally. Texas and Louisiana said federal law gives Biden less discretion to pick and choose enforcement targets. 

◾ Kavanaugh wrote that states don’t have a stake in whether the federal government prosecutes more or less immigrants. “After all,” he wrote, “the executive branch must prioritize its enforcement efforts. That is because the executive branch invariably lacks the resources to arrest and prosecute every violator of every law.”

◾ In his dissent, Alito wrote that Biden’s policy “inflicts substantial harm on the state and its residents by releasing illegal aliens with criminal convictions for serious crimes.”

Potential implications beyond immigration

Though the policy was at the heart of the case, the justices spent just as much time during the November oral arguments debating whether the states were able to sue and what power lower courts have to block such policies − and that more technical matter wound up deciding the case.

Biden’s attorneys questioned whether Texas and Louisiana should be allowed to sue. The states claim the immigration policy forced them to spend more money but critics have said the states have sought to increase their populations and that the same costs – such as for public education – would rise with an influx of non-immigrants as well.

The decision could have implications for when states may sue a presidential administration over federal policies, which is common. Kavanaugh stressed that the impact of the decision Friday would not give future administrations “some freestanding or general constitutional authority to disregard statutes.” But Alito wrote that he worried that in future cases, “presidential power may be extended even further.”

How did the immigration case arrive at the Supreme Court?

Biden laid out his immigration priorities in a Department of Homeland Security memorandum in 2021. But the states said federal immigration law demands more than Biden’s approach: It requires the government to arrest and detain immigrants who have committed certain crimes, such as aggravated felonies or human trafficking.  

A federal district court in Texas sided with the states and halted the policy’s enforcement. A three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit – all three of whom were nominated by GOP presidents – declined to put the district court’s ruling on hold. Biden then filed an emergency request in July asking the Supreme Court to pause the 5th Circuit’s decision.

In July, a 5-4 majority of the court declined Biden’s request, barring his ability to carry out the policy.

The high court had been set to hear another immigration case in March about whether the government could continue to rapidly expel migrants under the pandemic-era Title 42 program. But after Biden announced he would end the emergency declarations tied to COVID-19, the court removed the case from its calendar. 

Biden’s lawyers argued the administration doesn’t have the resources to do what the states are asking: DHS has about 6,000 interior enforcement officers to deal with more than 11 million people in the country illegally. The administration’s priorities don’t reduce enforcement, the government argued, but rather focus it on the worst offenders.    

Reaction: What experts say about the immigration decision

◾ DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas praised the decision, saying the administration’s guidelines will allow immigration officials to “effectively accomplish its law enforcement mission with the authorities and resources provided by Congress.”

◾ This decision soundly rejects the misguided attempt by Texas and Louisiana to force the government to implement the most draconian immigration enforcement policy,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. 

◾ Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry accused the Biden administration of “ignoring Congress and releasing violent criminal aliens into our communities.” Landry called on Congress to pass legislation that would allow states to “hold federal government officials accountable for their unlawful conduct.”

◾ Brent Webster, first assistant attorney general in Texas, said officials were “extremely disappointed” by the decision. “The state of Texas and our citizens are disproportionately affected by the Biden administration’s unlawful immigration policies,” Webster said. “And Texas has played a key role in forcing accountability through the court system.”

◾ Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor and immigration expert at Cornell Law School, noted that the Supreme Court “refused to issue sweeping proclamations” and instead “ruled as narrowly as possible.”

Source: usatoday


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