President Joe Biden’s administration cannot, for now, curtail arrests of illegal immigrants, a federal judge ruled on Aug. 19, delivering another setback to the White House’s immigration agenda.
U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton, a Trump nominee, granted a preliminary injunction sought by the states of Texas and Louisiana against two memorandums issued by Biden administration officials earlier this year that sought to “prioritize” certain categories of illegal immigrants.
The case involves an immigration law provision that stipulates that illegal immigrants who had committed crimes shall be taken into federal custody after they’re released, but the Biden administration’s memos attempted to direct Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) resources to detain illegal aliens based on the nature of the crime. Texas and Louisiana argued that Biden’s memo would prevent ICE agents from arresting and deporting other illegal aliens who had criminal histories.
Not included in the two memos were categories for illegal aliens convicted of serious drug offenses or crimes of moral turpitude.
The two states have seen rising costs related to detention facilities and an increase in crimes traceable to the memos, Tipton wrote in the 160-page order.
“The Court concludes the potential harms to the States arising out of the Memoranda outweigh any potential harms to the Government. The Court also concludes the public interest is served, rather than undermined, by an injunction,” he wrote.
U.S. lawyers argued that the memos did prioritize certain categories of illegal immigrants but didn’t preclude action against ones that fell outside those categories.
They also asserted that the Department of Homeland Security has “longstanding discretion over the enforcement of immigration laws” and the agency’s efforts shouldn’t be interfered with.
But Tipton concluded that the government appeared to have failed to consider some of the effects of the new guidelines, including whether they would drive up crimes since some criminal illegal aliens were excluded from the priorities outlined in the memos.
“In sum, the Government’s failure to rationally explain and connect the basis for the new guidance, along with the Government’s failure to consider certain relevant factors and alternative policies, establish that there is a substantial likelihood that the reprioritization is an arbitrary and capricious policy,” he wrote.
Additionally, the judge said the agency appeared to be neglecting federal law that outlines immigration enforcement.
The preliminary injunction is in effect pending a final resolution of the case or until a further order from the court or an appeals court.
With Tipton’s order, ICE officers now have broader powers and can go after a broader range of illegal immigrants. His ruling also requires the federal government to report back by Sept. 3 on changes to enforcing immigration law.
After the White House-directed memos were issued, ICE arrested far fewer illegal immigrants each month than during the same months in 2020.
Harris County, Texas, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, the president’s nominee to lead ICE, told senators last month during a nominating hearing that he viewed the drop in arrests as “concerning.”
“In my experience I would like to see more data to see what other factors may have played into that to better understand the numbers,” he said. “It is concerning, so I would make sure, again, that we’re being strategic and we’re prioritizing properly that we could go after those individuals that pose the greatest threat to our communities.”
Gonzalez said he believed illegal immigrants ordered removed from the United States should be deported.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said he was “heartened” by the responses. “I think they do put you in significant tension with this administration’s policies—I’m personally fine with that, I hope you go and enforce the law vigorously, I don’t know what the White House will think of your answers but I’m heartened by what I’ve heard so far.”
Tipton’s ruling is the latest blow to the White House’s immigration agenda amid dozens of executive orders issued by Biden during his nascent presidency—many of which rescinded Trump-era policies including “Remain in Mexico” and construction of the border wall along the U.S.–Mexico border.
Earlier in the year, the judge blocked Biden’s proposed 100-day moratorium on most ICE deportations, saying the directive violated immigration law. Another federal judge last week ordered the Biden administration to reinstate President Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy that requires asylum-seekers to stay in Mexico for the remainder of their immigration court proceedings.
The Department of Homeland Security didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jack Phillips contributed to this report.