US judge blocks Biden bid to halt deportations
A federal judge on Tuesday barred the US government from enforcing a 100-day deportation moratorium that is a key immigration priority of the new president, Joe Biden. US district judge Drew Tipton issued a temporary restraining order sought by Texas, which sued last Friday against a Department of Homeland Security memo that instructed immigration agencies to pause most deportations.
Tipton said the Biden administration had failed “to provide any concrete, reasonable justification for a 100-day pause on deportations.”
Tipton’s order is an early blow to the Biden administration, which has proposed far-reaching changes sought by immigration advocates, including a plan to legalize an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US.
Biden promised during his campaign to pause most deportations for 100 days.
The order represents a victory for Texas’s Republican leaders, who often sued to stop programs enacted by Biden’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.
It also showed that just as Democratic-led states and immigration groups fought the former president, Donald Trump, over immigration in court, often successfully, so too will Republicans with Biden in office.
David Pekoske, the acting homeland security secretary, signed a memo on Biden’s first day directing immigration authorities to focus on national security and public safety threats as well as anyone apprehended entering the US unlawfully after 1 November.
That was a reversal from Trump administration policy that made anyone in the US illegally a priority for deportation.
The 100-day moratorium went into effect last Friday and applied to almost anyone who entered the US without authorization before November.
The Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, argued that the moratorium violated federal law as well as an agreement Texas signed with the Department of Homeland Security late in the Trump administration.
That agreement required homeland security to consult with Texas and other states before taking any action to “reduce, redirect, reprioritize, relax, or in any way modify immigration enforcement”.
The Biden administration argued in court filings that the agreement is unenforceable because “an outgoing administration cannot contract away that power for an incoming administration”.
Paxton’s office, meanwhile, submitted a Fox News opinion article as evidence that “refusal to remove illegal aliens is directly leading to the immediate release of additional illegal aliens in Texas”.
Tipton, a Trump appointee, wrote that his order was not based on the agreement between Texas and the Trump administration, but federal law to preserve the “status quo” before the DHS moratorium.
Paxton has championed conservative and far-right causes in court, including a failed lawsuit seeking to overturn Biden’s victory over Trump, as he himself faces an FBI investigation over accusations by top former aides that he abused his office at the service of a donor.
In response to the order, Paxton tweeted “VICTORY” and described the deportation moratorium as a “seditious leftwing insurrection”, an apparent reference to the 6 January insurrection in which Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol.
Five people died in the Capitol riot, including a Capitol police officer.
Kate Huddleston of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas criticized Paxton and argued his lawsuit shouldn’t be allowed to proceed.
“The administration’s pause on deportations is not only lawful but necessary to ensure that families are not separated and people are not returned to danger needlessly while the new administration reviews past actions,” Huddleston said in a statement.
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