Court rejects a lawsuit demanding that Biden administration boost deportations

FILE - An immigrant considered a threat to public safety and national security waits to be processed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at the ICE Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles, after an early morning raid, June 6, 2022. The Supreme Court said Friday, June 23, 2023, that it will no longer stand in the way of a long-blocked Biden administration policy to prioritize the deportation of immigrants who are deemed to pose the greatest public safety risk or were picked up at the border. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
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Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Friday rejected a Republican-led challenge to a Biden administration policy that prioritizes the deportation of immigrants who are deemed to pose the greatest risk to public safety or were picked up at the border.

The justices voted 8-1 to allow the long-blocked policy to take effect, recognizing there is not enough money or manpower to deport all 11 million or so people who are in the United States illegally.

The case was one of two immigration cases decided Friday, the other upholding a section of federal law used to prosecute people who encourage illegal immigration..

In the deportation case, Louisiana and Texas had argued that federal immigration law requires authorities to detain and expel those in the U.S. illegally even if they pose little or no risk.

But the court held that the states lacked the legal standing, or right to sue, in the first place.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in his opinion for the court that the executive branch has no choice but to prioritize enforcement efforts.

“That is because the Executive Branch invariably lacks the resources to arrest and prosecute every violator of every law and must constantly react and adjust to the ever-shifting public-safety and public welfare needs of the American people,” Kavanaugh wrote.

At the center of the case is a September 2021 directive from the Department of Homeland Security that paused deportations unless individuals had committed acts of terrorism, espionage or “egregious threats to public safety.” The guidance, issued after Joe Biden became president, updated a Trump-era policy to remove people who were in the country illegally, regardless of criminal history or community ties.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas applauded Friday’s decision, saying it would allow immigration officers “to focus limited resources and enforcement actions on those who pose a threat to our national security, public safety and border security.”

The case displayed a frequently used litigation strategy by Republican attorneys general and other officials that has succeeded in slowing Biden administration initiatives by going to Republican-friendly courts.

Texas and Louisiana claimed in their lawsuit that they would face added costs of having to detain people the federal government might allow to remain free inside the United States, despite their criminal records.

Last year, a federal judge in Texas ordered a nationwide halt to the guidance and a federal appellate panel in New Orleans declined to step in.

A federal appeals court in Cincinnati had earlier overturned a district judge’s order that put the policy on hold in a lawsuit filed by Arizona, Ohio and Montana.

But 11 months ago, when the administration asked the Supreme Court to intervene, the justices voted 5-4 to keep the policy on hold. At the same time, the court agreed to hear the case, which was argued in December.

In Friday’s decision, Kavanaugh’s opinion spoke for just five justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts and the three liberals. Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett agreed with the outcome for other reasons.

Justice Samuel Alito filed a solo dissent, writing that the decision improperly favors the president over Congress. “And it renders states already laboring under the effects of massive illegal immigration even more helpless,” Alito wrote.

In a separate immigration-related decision also issued Friday, the court upheld a section of federal law that is used against people who encourage illegal immigration.

The justices by a 7-2 vote reinstated the criminal conviction of a California man, Helaman Hansen, who offered adult adoptions he falsely claimed would lead to U.S. citizenship. At least 471 people paid Hansen between $550 and $10,000 each, or more than $1.8 million in all, the government said.

He was prosecuted under a section of federal immigration law that says a person who “encourages or induces” a non-citizen to come to or remain in the United States illegally can be punished by up to five years in prison. That’s increased to 10 years if the person doing the encouraging is doing so for personal financial gain. The justices rejected an appeals court ruling that the law is too broad and violates the Constitution.