A federal judge on Thursday imposed a preliminary injunction on the Biden administration’s rules for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers that significantly narrowed the categories of illegal immigrants being targeted for arrest and deportation – a ruling that marks the latest legal blow to the Biden administration's immigration policies.
Judge Drew Tipton ruled that the policy was in violation of congressional mandates, and that Louisiana and Texas, which filed the lawsuit, were likely to succeed in their claim that the policy violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA.)
The Biden administration issued the guidance in February, limiting agents to focusing on three categories of immigrants: those who pose a threat to national security; those who have crossed the border since Nov. 1, and those who committed "aggravated felonies." It followed on from Jan 20 guidance issued by the Department of Homeland Security.
Officials said the guidance does not explicitly prevent anyone from being arrested or deported. Instead, it directs resources at certain targets. However, field officers seeking to arrest someone outside of those three categories needed approval from their chain of command.
"By focusing our limited resources on cases that present threats to national security, border security and public safety, our agency will more ably and effectively execute its law enforcement mission," ICE acting Director Tae Johnson said in a statement. "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."
Critics noted that the guidance coincided with a sharp drop in arrests and deportations by the agency, and accused the Biden administration of trying to handcuff the agency. Arizona and Montana had also sued over the guidance in a separate lawsuit.
The lawsuit by Louisiana and Texas argued that narrowing arrests would hurt them financially – including with increased detention, education and health care costs – and also damaged their interests in protecting their citizens from criminal illegal immigrants.
The states also argued that the guidelines prioritize certain criminal immigrants (aggravated felons) over other criminals, in breach of congressional mandates that order the detention of all criminal illegal immigrants.
Tipton ruled that the link between the guidance and the harm suffered by the states is "virtually unassailable" and that "the undisputed evidence demonstrates that the memoranda are already causing a dramatic increase in the volume of criminal aliens released into the public."
Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Biden’s pick to lead the agency, was asked by Republicans last month about the guidance and the subsequent drop in arrests. He said the drop was concerning, but that he would need more information to assess why it is happening.
"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 at his Senate confirmation hearing. "It is concerning, so I would make sure, again, that if we’re being strategic and we’re prioritizing properly that we could go after those individuals that pose the greatest threat to our communities."
The ruling is the latest blow to the Biden administration’s immigration policies. Earlier this year, Judge Tipton blocked the Biden administration from imposing a 100-day deportation freeze on ICE.
Last week, a federal judge ordered the administration to "enforce and implement" the Trump-era Remain-in-Mexico policy in response to a lawsuit from Texas and Missouri – while giving them seven days to appeal.