EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Shortly after taking office, President Joe Biden issued new guidelines on immigration enforcement that directed authorities to focus on people in the country illegally who pose a threat.
Counter to the Trump administration, which pushed for the removal of anyone in the country illegally, the Biden administration has sought to apprehend and remove only people who pose a threat to national security, committed crimes designated as “aggravated” felonies, or recently crossed the border.
On Thursday, a federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration guidelines, declaring that the president does not have the discretion to choose who not to detain certain immigrants.
Judge Drew Tipton, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to formulate new policies by Sept. 3. ICE must also provide the court with the names, addresses, and criminal histories of anyone released from custody but not transferred to ICE custody.
In a statement, American Immigration Council criticized the ruling, saying immigration enforcement operated “on overdrive” for years, with “immeasurable consequences” for immigrant families.
“Today’s decision upends meaningful efforts to move away from a dragnet approach to immigration enforcement. If permitted to stand, it will undermine one of the most basic principles of law enforcement—the government’s ability to determine who will and who will not be subjected to enforcement activities,” said Jorge Loweree, policy director at the American Immigration Council.
Loweree argued that the Biden administration created enforcement priorities to limit some of the harm experienced by immigrant communities. Additionally, he said Tipton’s decision forces the federal government to lock up thousands of vulnerable people during a global pandemic while COVID-19 still rages through many ICE detention centers.
According to ICE data, 1,179 detainees are currently under isolation or monitoring after testing positive for the coronavirus. Since February 2020, just over 25,000 detainees have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Jeremy McKinney, the president-elect of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said law enforcement agencies exercise prosecutorial discretion every day. He questioned whether a federal judge could dictate who the executive branch can detain or not detain.
“This Texas judge is single-handedly forcing the federal government to re-examine how it will enforce immigration law,” McKinney said. “Even after (Thursday’s) decision, immigration attorneys and advocates should press the agency to exercise discretion in appropriate cases and implement robust policies on prosecutorial discretion. Enforcement must be done in a fair and humane manner and every advocate must continue to fight for their clients whether they are deprived of their liberty in a jail cell or free.”
Tipton issued his decision after the states of Texas and Louisiana challenged ICE’s ability to arrest, detain, and deport those outside the scope laid out in the White House’s Feb. 18 enforcement memo.
In February, Tipton indefinitely banned Biden’s administration from enforcing a 100-day moratorium on most deportations.