The Supreme Court granted the Biden administration’s request on Feb. 3 to cancel upcoming oral arguments over two legal challenges to former President Donald Trump’s signature immigration-related policies.
The cases, now held in abeyance pending possible settlement discussions, dealt with the construction of a wall on the nation’s southern border to stem the flow of illegal aliens, and Trump’s policy requiring asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their claims are adjudicated. The Supreme Court had only agreed to hear the cases on Oct. 19, 2020, after the Trump administration sought a review of lower court decisions. Trump’s term in office ended Jan. 20.
Since taking office, President Joe Biden has changed the executive branch’s priorities, moving away from the immigration law enforcement efforts favored by the previous administration.
Hours after becoming president, Biden signed Presidential Proclamation 10142, in which he declared that “building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border is not a serious policy solution,” describing the project as “a waste of money that diverts attention from genuine threats to our homeland security.”
The document revoked Trump’s Presidential Proclamation 9844 of Feb. 15, 2019, that declared a national emergency concerning the Southern border and invoked the National Emergencies Act. Trump ordered $2.5 billion in military drug interdiction funds redirected to the wall construction project on the U.S.–Mexico border.
Trump’s declaration stated that the border remained “a major entry point” for “illicit narcotics.” The Department of Defense (DOD) was directed to support the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “in securing the southern border and taking other necessary actions to stop the flow of deadly drugs,” a government brief stated.
On Feb. 25, 2019, the DHS formally requested the DOD’s help with the construction of fences, roads, and lighting “to block drug-smuggling corridors on the southern border.” The DOD approved the request with respect to seven projects in Arizona, California, and New Mexico.
Lawmakers attempted to override Trump’s emergency declaration but failed, leaving the government without lawfully appropriated funds to spend and leading to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, running from Dec. 22, 2018, to Jan. 25, 2019.
In July 2019, the Supreme Court allowed the government to proceed with construction while the case worked its way through the appeals courts.
Biden’s new proclamation provides that the funding will no longer be used to build the wall.
The case dealing with the wall, Biden v. Sierra Club, was previously titled Trump v. Sierra Club.
The other case, Mayorkas v. Innovation Law Lab, dealt with a challenge to the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program that required non-Mexican asylum-seekers appearing at the southern border to wait in Mexico for their claims to be adjudicated. The appeal was previously titled Wolf v. Innovation Law Lab.
The so-called Migrant Protection Protocols, which were approved by Congress and signed into law during the Clinton administration, hadn’t been used until then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced in December 2018 that they would be implemented. The goal, she said at the time, was to curtail the so-called catch-and-release system, in which individuals made fraudulent asylum claims knowing they would be allowed into the United States and would be able to stay for years before their court appearance, which many ended up not attending.
“Aliens trying to game the system to get into our country illegally will no longer be able to disappear into the United States, where many skip their court dates. Instead, they will wait for an immigration court decision while they are in Mexico,” Nielsen said.
Lower courts had ruled against the policy, but the Supreme Court previously allowed enforcement to continue while litigation over its lawfulness was pending.
Under Biden, DHS issued a memorandum providing that, effective Jan. 21, “the Department will suspend new enrollments in the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), pending further review of the program. Aliens who aren’t already enrolled in MPP should be processed under other existing legal authorities.”
On Feb. 2, Biden signed three new executive orders aimed to undo Trump-era immigration policies.
One of the documents, Biden said during a ceremony at the White House, “orders a full review of the previous administration’s harmful and counterproductive immigration policies, basically across the board.”