In the first legal challenge to the Biden administration’s immigration agenda, a federal judge in Texas has temporarily blocked a 100-day pause on deportations.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on Tuesday issued a 14-day nationwide temporary restraining order sought by the state’s attorney general that would prevent carrying out the policy, which was issued by the Homeland Security Department within hours of President Biden’s inauguration. The order will remain in effect until the judge has considered a broader motion for a preliminary injunction.
The judge, Drew B. Tipton, who was appointed by former President Donald J. Trump, said in his ruling that the suspension of deportations would violate a provision of the immigration statute as well as another law that required agencies to provide a rational explanation for their policy decisions.
The immigration law states that people with final orders of removal from the United States must be deported within 90 days. The court held that the 100-day pause violated that requirement and that the mandatory language of the immigration law should not be “neutered by the federal government’s broad discretion.”
The court also held that the agency’s memorandum violated a separate law that required agencies to provide a logical and rational reason for their policy changes. The judge determined that the Homeland Security Department had run afoul of the Administrative Procedure Act because it failed to supply adequate justification for the temporary suspension of deportations.
Immediately after taking office, Mr. Biden began dismantling some of his predecessor’s initiatives that were intended to curb both legal and illegal immigration to the United States. The president has issued a series of executive orders, including one to repeal a travel ban that targeted majority-Muslim countries.
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Immigration advocates challenged many of Mr. Trump’s policies in federal court, and the decision by Judge Tipton on Tuesday signaled that immigration hawks might also sue to stymie Mr. Biden’s initiatives.
“The court’s order shows the uphill battle President Biden has in trying to reverse the prior administration’s immigration restrictions,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration lawyer and a professor at Cornell Law School. “A single judge can halt a federal agency’s effort to review and reprioritize its immigration enforcement policies.”
After the decision on Tuesday, Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas said on Twitter that it was a victory against the left.
“Texas is the FIRST state in the nation to bring a lawsuit against the Biden Admin. AND WE WON,” wrote Mr. Paxton, a Republican, who is under federal investigation for bribery and abuse of power accusations raised by former aides.
“Within 6 days of Biden’s inauguration, Texas has HALTED his illegal deportation freeze,” Mr. Paxton wrote. “This was a seditious left-wing insurrection. And my team and I stopped it.”
In a letter last week to David Pekoske, the acting secretary of homeland security, Mr. Paxton called the plan a “complete abdication of the Department of Homeland Security’s obligation to enforce federal immigration law” that would “seriously and irreparably harm the State of Texas and its citizens.”
Thousands of immigrants in detention centers have deportation orders that can be executed once they exhaust their legal appeals. Thousands more who live in the interior of the country could be arrested because they have outstanding deportation orders.
The Biden administration said that the pause was intended to allow time for an internal review. The moratorium would cover most immigrants who faced deportation, unless they had arrived in the United States after Nov. 1, 2020, were suspected of committing acts of terrorism or espionage, or posed a threat to national security.
“We’re confident that as the case proceeds, it will be clear that this measure was wholly appropriate in ordering a temporary pause to allow the agency to carefully review its policies, procedures and enforcement priorities — while allowing for a greater focus on threats to public safety and national security,” a White House spokesman said on Tuesday. “President Biden remains committed to taking immediate action to reform our immigration system to ensure it’s upholding American values while keeping our communities safe.”
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