Texas Wins Nationwide Order Halting Biden Deportation Freeze
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden suffered his first major court setback after a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked the new administration’s plan to pause deportations of undocumented immigrants for 100 days.
Tuesday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton is a preliminary victory for Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican. Texas sued just two days after Biden’s inauguration, taking aim at a measure seen as the first step by the new president to reverse Donald Trump’s harsh immigration policies.
The decision is a sign of the legal battles to come. Just as attorneys general from Democratic-leaning states like California and New York flooded the Trump administration with lawsuits seeking to block key policies, Republican-led states are now poised to return the favor, potentially backed by the massive complement of judges Trump and the former Republican Senate majority managed to appoint over the past four years.
Tipton, a Trump appointee himself, said the suit “establishes a substantial risk of imminent and irreparable harm to Texas” from the planned freeze, which was announced in a Jan. 20 memorandum and was due to take effect two days later. His order blocks the Department of Homeland Security from immediately halting deportations until a hearing over whether to issue a longer-lasting order that could doom the president’s effort to halt removals.
The judge also said the order applied nationwide, taking a step Republicans often blasted when it was granted against the Trump administration.
“Nationwide injunctions of executive action are a topic of fierce and ongoing debate in both the courts and the legal academy,” Tipton said in his order. Even so, he ruled that the Biden administration “must be enjoined from executing the January 20 Memorandum’s 100-day pause on the removal of aliens in every place defendants would have jurisdiction to implement it.”
A White House spokesperson said Biden remained committed to implementing a freeze and was confident the measure would ultimately be ruled to be an appropriate pause allowing a thorough review of policies and enforcement priorities, taking into account public safety and nation security concerns.
The Biden administration is pressing ahead with revising immigration policies. The Justice Department on Tuesday issued a memo rescinding the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” approach to immigration case, saying it was restoring the discretion of prosecutors to make determinations based on the circumstances of individual cases.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office filed the suit over the deportation freeze, hailed Tipton’s decision. “A near-complete suspension of deportations would only serve to endanger Texans and undermine federal law,” he said in a statement. Paxton, a Republican who filed a suit challenging the 2020 election results, also vowed to continue to defend Texas “against the unlawful and unconstitutional actions of President Biden and his administration.”
The judge said during an initial hearing last week that his decision on the temporary restraining order should not be interpreted to hint at how he’ll rule on the state’s bid for an injunction. But in his order Tuesday Tipton said he thought the freeze’s implementation potentially violated federal administrative law and, more substantively, a law requiring deportations to be carried out 90 days after being ordered.
Texas argues in the lawsuit that the freeze breaches a purported commitment by the Department of Homeland Security to consult with the state before making any changes to immigration enforcement -- a deal Texas reached with the government less than two weeks before Trump left office.
The Justice Department argued the agreement is an illegal attempt to tie the hands of the new administration and isn’t enforceable. Tipton said his order wasn’t based on the agreement but that the validity of the deal must be hashed out later on.
“The issues implicated by that Agreement are of such gravity and constitutional import that they require further development of the record and briefing prior to addressing the merits,” the judge wrote.
During a Monday hearing, Tipton ordered the administration to address concerns about the early release of undocumented immigrants raised by Tucker Carlson on his Fox News show. The judge ordered Biden’s Justice Department to provide data on how many undocumented immigrants skip removal hearings after being released early from detention.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.