Supreme Court Declines to Reinstate Biden Administration’s Immigration Enforcement Guidelines

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The Supreme Court on Thursday declined to restore the Biden administration’s immigration enforcement guidelines that set priorities for deciding which illegal immigrants should be arrested and deported after the guidance was blocked by a federal judge in Texas.

The justices did not explain their reasoning in the 5-4 order but said the Court would take up an appeal of the case and hear arguments in December. The three liberal justices, including newly sworn-in justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, were joined by Justice Amy Coney Barrett in dissent.

The guidelines at issue instruct immigration officials to focus on arresting and deporting immigrants who are national-security threats and immigrants who recently crossed the border illegally. 

“We will use our discretion and focus our enforcement resources in a more targeted way,” the guidelines said.

The administration argued that the guidelines, which were issued in September and would mark a return to Obama-era policies, are necessary because the government does not have the resources to apprehend and deport more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. 

A federal judge in Texas blocked the guidance, saying it allowed the release of illegal immigrants with criminal records. Judge Drew B. Tipton’s order came in response to a lawsuit brought by Texas and Louisiana. The two states said the release of illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds is a burden on their justice systems.

“Through the Immigration and Nationality Act, Congress has directed the Executive — in mandatory language — to detain specific criminal aliens,” Paxton wrote.

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a Justice Department request to stay the lower-court order pending appeal, leading the administration to ask the Supreme Court to reinstate the policy on an emergency basis.

The administration argued that the Department of Homeland Security has “long relied” on guidance regarding national immigration enforcement priorities in order to “harmonize its efforts and focus its limited resources.”

The appeals-court panel noted that the administration “provides that the guidelines ‘are essential to advancing this administration’s stated commitment to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.’”

The panel wrote that DHS’s “replacement of Congress’s statutory mandates with concerns of equity and race is extralegal, considering that such policy concerns are plainly outside the bounds of the power conferred by” the immigration laws.

Meanwhile, in a similar case brought by Arizona, Montana, and Ohio, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals came to the opposite conclusion and stayed and reversed an injunction against the guidance.

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