In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court has granted clearance for the Biden administration to reinstate guidelines instructing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to focus its deportation efforts on immigrants with serious criminal convictions and those deemed to pose threats to national security. The court ruled that Texas and Louisiana, the two states challenging the administration’s guidelines, lacked standing to bring the suit, known as United States v. Texas.
With a majority ruling of 8-1, Justice Brett Kavanaugh penned the opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ketanji Brown Jackson. Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, and Amy Coney Barrett concurred in the judgment, with Gorsuch and Barrett providing their own opinions.
The decision represents a significant victory for the Biden administration and upholds the executive branch’s broad authority to shape the enforcement of federal immigration laws without undue interference from lawsuits.
The crux of the dispute revolves around a 2021 memo issued by the Biden administration, which directed ICE agents to prioritize the arrest of immigrants with serious criminal records, national security concerns, and recent unauthorized entries into the U.S. The policy generally shielded long-term unauthorized immigrants without serious criminal offenses from ICE arrest.
The administration argues that the memo, signed by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, enables ICE to concentrate its limited resources and 6,000 deportation agents on apprehending individuals who pose the greatest risks to public safety, national security, and border security. Officials contend that the policy acknowledges the impracticality of deporting millions of people residing unlawfully in the country.
However, Republican officials in Texas and Louisiana challenged the memo in federal court, claiming that it restricted ICE agents from fully enforcing immigration laws related to the detention of certain migrants. Lower court judges initially blocked the policy at the states’ behest, prompting the Supreme Court to take up the case.
In the majority opinion, Kavanaugh described the lawsuit brought by Texas and Louisiana as extraordinarily unusual. He argued that federal courts traditionally refrain from ordering the executive branch to alter arrest policies to increase apprehensions. Kavanaugh asserted that such matters should be addressed through congressional appropriations, oversight, legislative changes, and federal elections. Accepting the states’ arguments, he warned, could lead to interference by states in federal law enforcement beyond immigration matters.
Justice Samuel Alito issued a strong dissent, criticizing the majority for granting the executive branch sweeping powers and asserting that the states did have standing to sue regarding the ICE arrest policy.
This case is part of a broader legal battle between the Biden administration and Republican-led states challenging various immigration policy changes. Republican-controlled states have successfully obtained court rulings that delayed the termination of Title 42 border restrictions, reinstated the “Remain in Mexico” policy for asylum-seekers, blocked a proposed moratorium on deportations, halted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for new applicants, and suspended a policy for quick migrant releases to address overcrowding in border facilities.
In response to the ruling, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas expressed the department’s intent to reinstate the ICE enforcement guidelines, highlighting their effectiveness in accomplishing the law enforcement mission entrusted by Congress.