Federal judge sides with Louisiana, Texas in criminal migrant deportation dispute

William Patrick | The Center Square

A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction against the Biden administration’s practice of releasing criminal undocumented migrants, handing Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton a victory.

Landry sued the administration along with Paxton, alleging President Joe Biden’s Migrant Protection Protocols violated federal immigration laws.

Judge Drew Tipton of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas agreed, saying the immigration protocols cannot replace congressional intent.

“The Court inquires whether the Executive Branch may direct officials to enforce a law enacted by Congress in a way that is contrary to the plain language of the law. That inquiry yields a clear answer: it may not,” concludes the 160-page order.

Courts frequently defer to the president regarding federal immigration issues, and, by extension, executive branch agencies such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

But a separation of powers problem occurred when Biden changed priority immigration enforcement categories Jan. 20 and Feb. 18 to exclude “aliens convicted of serious drug offenses, aliens convicted of crimes of moral turpitude and aliens subject to a final order of removal,” Judge Tipton said.

“Put simply, the Government has instructed federal officials that ‘shall detain’ certain aliens means ‘may detain’ when it unambiguously means must detain,” the injunction said.

Landry and Paxton immediately issued statements hailing the decision.

“The fact that a judge had to tell the President of the United States to comply with standing law is shameful,” Landry said.

“It’s time for the federal government to wake up and address the chaos that they caused – and in the meanwhile, we will fight tooth and nail to protect Texans from their carelessness,” Paxton said.

While they argued the Biden administration is “grinding these required detentions to a halt,” lawyers for the administration insisted the president acted within his lawful discretion.

Immigration enforcement agents were not instructed to cease detention activities, they said, as priority enforcement continued regarding national security risks, aggravated felonies and certain illegal border entries occurring after Nov. 1.

ICE acting Director Tae Johnson, who is named in the lawsuit, maintains the amended Migrant Protection Protocols strike a balance between resources and public safety.

“Like every law enforcement agency at the local, state and federal level, we must prioritize our efforts to achieve the greatest security and safety impact,” Johnson said when the protocols were changed shortly after President Biden’s inauguration.

The preliminary injunction is not the final decision in the matter, though it’s the latest blow to the administration’s immigration stance. Tipton blocked earlier this year a federal 100-day deportation freeze nationwide.

“While our fight is far from over, I am pleased the Court granted preliminary relief against the President’s unlawful attempt to limit deportations,” Landry said.

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