Migrant advocates angered after federal judge blocks Biden’s deportation moratorium

Border Report

Migrant advocates say 'enough is enough'

Guatemalan immigrants deported from the United States arrive on a ICE deportation flight on February 9, 2017 in Guatemala City, Guatemala. The charter jet, carrying 135 deportees, arrived from Texas, where U.S. border agents catch the largest number illegal immigrants crossing into the United States, many of them from Central America. U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to vastly increase the number of deportations. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Migrant advocates expressed disbelief and anger on Tuesday after a federal judge barred the Biden administration from enforcing a 100-day moratorium on deportations after the State of Texas filed a lawsuit against the newly announced migrant removal orders.

U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton, of the Southern District of Texas, on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order sought by Texas, which on Friday had sued against a Department of Homeland Security memo that instructed immigration agencies to pause most migrant deportations. The lawsuit was brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who on Friday claimed the mortarium is unconstitutional, and a violation of federal immigration and an agreement between the State of Texas and DHS.

The new orders were laid out in a memo sent Wednesday by new DHS Acting Secretary David Pekoske to leaders of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies. Pekoske’s orders directed law enforcement to focus through April 30 on deporting migrants who are a threat to national security, linked to terrorism or espionage, were recently incarcerated, and those apprehended without proper documentation in border regions.

But Tipton, who is conservative and was appointed by former President Donald Trump, sided with Paxton’s request for an emergency TRO, writing “this TRO is granted on a nationwide basis.” But he added that several charges in the lawsuit merit further study.

“The Court makes clear that this Order is not based on the ‘Agreement Between Department of Homeland Security and the State of Texas’ attached as Exhibit ‘A’ to Plaintiff’s Complaint. 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. Rather, the Court finds that a TRO maintaining the status quo as it existed prior to the implementation of the January 20 Memorandum’s 100-day pause is appropriate under the Administrative Procedures Act,” Tipton wrote.

Paxton immediately tweeted “VICTORY” writing “WE WON” and accusing the Biden administration of “seditious left-wing insurrection.” Paxton has been indicted on felony securities fraud charges.

“The Court’s decision to stop the Biden Administration from casting aside congressionally enacted immigration laws is a much-needed remedy for DHS’s unlawful action. A near-complete suspension of deportations would only serve to endanger Texans and undermine federal law,” Paxton said in a statement. “Blatantly illegal security threats cannot be allowed to stand, and the rule of law must be upheld. I commend the Court for prioritizing the law and safety of our citizens, and I will continue to defend Texas against the unlawful and unconstitutional actions of President Biden and his Administration.”

Kate Huddleston, an attorney for the ACLU of Texas, which had filed a brief asking the court to deny Paxton’s request, disagreed with Tipton’s ruling.

“The administration’s pause on deportations is not only lawful but necessary to ensure that families are not separated and people are not returned to danger needlessly while the new administration reviews past actions,” Huddleston said.

Migrant advocates told Border Report they were shocked at the speed in which Tipton ruled.

“The judge that I thought that wasn’t going to do that did that,” said Joshua Rubin of the grassroots organization Witness at the Border, which tracks deportation flights and expulsions of migrants from the United States.

“The voters rejected the Trump administration’s disastrous immigration policies, but Texas is now seeking to keep the Biden administration from turning the page,” said Cody Wofsy, a lawyer for the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “This initial, tentative, and hasty decision is incorrect, and we are confident it will be set aside as the case proceeds.”

The temporary restraining order is valid for 14 days and may be extended another 14 days, at which time the state of Texas would need to seek a preliminary injunction in order to continue to block the deportation moratorium.

“President Biden is well within his rights to review the immigration enforcement system, pause Trump’s harmful policies and create a fair and functional immigration system. The deportation pause is an important opportunity to review and reset immigration priorities to align with our values. The American people want to turn the page on the Trump administration’s xenophobia and voters overwhelmingly agree with Biden’s immigration actions announced last week, including the pause on deportations,” Kerri Talbot, deputy director of the Immigration Hub said in a statement.

Talbot said that a recent poll by the Immigration Hub found nearly 60% of voters in battleground states support a “pause on deportations so that the Department of Homeland Security can review and reset their enforcement policies.”

Earlier Tuesday, several migrant advocates, led by the nonprofit organization Grassroots Leadership, held an online news conference condemning Paxton’s lawsuit.

“This lawsuit has no merit. It is based on an invalid agreement and illegally signed between the state of Texas and Homeland Security in the last few days of the Trump administration,” Anita Gupta, a staff attorney based in Austin for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center said prior to the issuance of the TRO.

“We have to draw a strong and unified line,” Claudia Munoz, co-executive director of Grassroots Leadership said Tuesday prior to the ruling.

“We are here today as a unified voice to say ‘enough is enough,” said Annette Price, Grassroots’ co-executive director.

“This is just like a dog nipping at the heels of the new administration,” said Rubin, adding that he is hopeful that on Friday the Biden administration will announce more protections for migrants, as they have indicated they will.

“The Biden administration has its own trajectory and I’m hoping that some of the things they announce on Friday will be encouraging,” Rubin said. “What do we do? We do what we always do. We watch carefully and when we see a clear path to a better way to handle issues at the border we get behind them and if we can’t do that we expose what’s actually going on.”

“We are confident that this illegal agreement between Texas and this lone DHS official is not enforceable. However, our Republican governor and AG will continue to embarrass Texas as they continue to fight in court to score political points at the expense of millions of families at our Southern border,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said.

Said Juanita Valdez-Cox, executive director of La Union del Puebo Entero (LUPE):  “Immigrant communities along the border and throughout the nation are organized, energized, and ready to defend and expand the victories we’ve won. Ken Paxton’s desperate attacks won’t stand in the way of our freedom to live and thrive without fear. We will continue to defend individual cases and push for individual relief, including for our members with final orders of removal.”

Tipton has ordered both sides to come up with a briefing schedule on the case by noon Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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