Biden deportation freeze not justified, Texas judge rules

Erik Larson

A federal judge extended an order blocking President Joe Biden’s plan to halt deportations of undocumented immigrants for 100 days, saying the freeze had not been rationally justified and would impose greater detention costs on Texas.

U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton late Tuesday granted Texas’s motion for an injunction blocking the planned freeze on removals until the case is resolved, which could take months or years. The judge earlier issued a two-week restraining order against the plan, dealing Biden his first major courtroom setback.

In this July 31, 2019, file photo, migrants return to Mexico, using the Puerta Mexico bridge that crosses the Rio Grande river in Matamoros, Mexico, on the border with Brownsville, Texas.

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“In many ways, this case is about the proper limits of governmental power,” Tipton said in the 105-page order that’s a big win for Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican and a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

United States District Judge Drew B. Tipton

The proposed deportation freeze was part of a broader effort to roll back Trump immigration policies and work toward nationwide immigration reform, and the Biden administration said in statement Wednesday that Tipton’s ruling did not affect many of the steps it was taking.

“After four years of an administration that separated children from their parents, deported veterans, and denied those fleeing persecution the right to ask for protection, this administration will bring order and humanity to our immigration enforcement system,” the White House said.

Arbitrary and Capricious

Tipton, a Trump appointee, said Texas is likely to prevail in its argument that Biden’s Department of Homeland Security violated the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to provide a reasoned justification for the plan.

“The core failure of DHS” lies “in its omission of a rational explanation grounded in the facts reviewed and the factors considered,” Tipton said. “This failure is fatal, as this defect essentially makes DHS’s determination to institute a 100-day pause on deportations an arbitrary and capricious choice.”

The judge held that the new administration failed to consider fully the resulting financial strain on Texas, from costs associated with detaining more undocumented immigrants and providing services like education to unaccompanied children.

Tipton agreed with DHS that presidents wield extensive authority over immigration policy. But the judge said the executive cannot “suspend” or “dispense with” the legislative powers of Congress. That was a reference to a U.S. law that says the government “shall remove” so-called criminal aliens within 90 days of a final removal order against them, the judge said. The Biden administration interpreted those words to mean it “may remove” aliens within that time-frame, “when it unambiguously means must remove,” the judge said.

State Costs

The judge also agreed with Texas that pausing deportations will increase costs for detention facilities in Texas because a “significant number of criminal aliens” who would otherwise be removed will be “moving freely within and into Texas” and likely end up detained again. Tipton pointed to similar costs for education, saying Texas spent between $26.7 million and $112.1 million to educate unaccompanied children in recent years, and that those costs would only go up under Biden’s plan.

“Texas incurs real financial costs in providing public education to unaccompanied children,” Tipton said. “The record demonstrates that an increase in the number of unaccompanied children in Texas due to the 100-day pause would lead to an increase in its public education costs.”

Tipton’s ruling did not address “for now” an agreement Abbott struck in the final days of the Trump administration requiring the federal government to consult with Texas on immigration policy.

In a brief several Democratic-led states filed earlier this month in support of the administration, New York Attorney General Letitia James said Texas’s “eleventh hour deal” undermines the sovereignty of other states and illegally punishes immigrants nationwide. James’s office didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the ruling.

The case is State of Texas v. U.S., 21-cv-00003, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Victoria).