Judge blocks U.S. effort to curtail ICE arrests and deportations

A federal judge delivered another setback to the Biden administration’s immigration agenda on Thursday, blocking a set of rules that limited who deportation agents should detain and deport from the country. 

U.S. District Court Judge Drew Tipton prohibited federal officials from enforcing two directives that instructed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to focus on arresting recent border-crossers, as well as immigrants deemed to threaten public safety or national security.

Under the new so-called “enforcement priorities,” ICE agents were required to obtain supervisory approval before arresting immigrants living in the U.S. without legal permission who did not fall within the three specified categories.

The memos issued in January and February are part of a broader Biden administration initiative to reshape ICE operations in the interior of the U.S. Other Biden-era directives have instructed ICE agents to refrain from detaining victims of serious crimes and pregnant or nursing women.

ICE U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers prepare for morning operations to arrest undocumented immigrants on April 11, 2018 in New York City. John Moore / Getty Images

Biden administration officials have argued that the limits on ICE arrests allow the agency to focus its finite resources on detaining immigrants with serious criminal convictions, while sparing undocumented immigrants without criminal records who have lived in the U.S. for years.

In his 160-page ruling, Tipton, who was appointed to the federal bench by former President Trump, said the Biden administration’s enforcement priorities could lead ICE officers to violate laws that govern the detention of immigrants the government seeks to deport.

Tipton also found the enforcement priorities were enacted in violation of federal administrative law, saying they should have been implemented through regulations open to comments from the public.

Earlier this year, Tipton blocked the Biden administration’s proposed 100-day moratorium on most ICE deportations, saying the plan violated U.S. immigration law.

Representatives for ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not immediately respond to requests to comment on Thursday’s court order.

Thursday’s ruling is the latest judicial defeat for the Biden administration. It’s also another victory for Texas, which filed lawsuits against the deportation moratorium and enforcement priorities alongside other Republican-led states.

Last week, another federal judge in Texas ordered the administration to reinstate the Trump-era practice of requiring asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for the duration of their U.S. court proceedings. The cases stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Texas and Missouri. 

The federal government has asked the Fifth Circuit to suspend last week’s ruling but it could be forced to revive the program on Saturday if no relief is granted.