AUSTIN, Texas — Granting a nationwide injunction requested by Texas officials, a federal judge has blocked the Biden administration's plans to pause deportations for 100 days under a comprehensive review of immigration enforcement.
U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton of Corpus Christi, appointed by former President Donald Trump last summer, had issued a temporary order halting enforcement of the deportation freeze on Jan. 26.
Late Tuesday night, shortly before that temporary order was set to expire, Tipton ruled that the pause exceeded the president's authority because it improperly suspended or altered a federal law requiring deportation within certain deadlines.
Tipton also said the order violated federal law because it was arbitrary and capricious, showing none of the legally required analysis on the reasons for the pause or its impact on states like Texas.
The memo announcing the 100-day deportation respite was signed on Jan. 20 within hours of President Joe Biden's inauguration. "That did not leave much time for reflection and analysis," Tipton wrote in his 105-page ruling.
"The Defendants do not cite, and the Court cannot find, other instances in which any government agency paused its essential duties and tasks for 100 days to reassess its priorities," the judge added.
The ACLU of Texas, which intervened in the case on behalf of two immigration groups, said it was reviewing its options to challenge Tipton's ruling.
"This ruling is legally wrong and will seriously harm families and communities around the country," said Cody Wofsy with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.
"Texas’ suit is an attempt to deprive the Biden administration of a meaningful opportunity to review and assess immigration enforcement after years of living under lawless Trump policies," Wofsy said.
Tipton's preliminary injunction can be appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or proceed to a trial on whether a permanent injunction should be issued. Federal lawyers have not yet indicated which direction they will choose.
Significantly, Tipton's ruling focused on the requirements of federal law and did not consider the legality of an agreement, quietly signed by state and federal officials in the closing days of the Trump administration, that requires the Department of Homeland Security to give Texas officials 180 days' notice before changing immigration enforcement in the state.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who had signed the agreement on Dec. 31 with Gov. Greg Abbott, argued that it also required federal officials to discuss immigration changes in advance.
Biden administration lawyers had argued that the agreement was illegal because no state can have veto power over federal immigration authority. They also said outgoing presidents could not make binding policy decisions for their successors via agreements with the states.
The pause, announced by acting Homeland Security Secretary David Pekoske, was intended let the agency focus on its most pressing needs, particularly at the busy southern border amid an ongoing pandemic.
The agency also sought to assess the resources needed to conduct immigration and asylum proceedings fairly and efficiently, Pekoske said, noting that the freeze excluded noncitizens who are suspected of terrorism or espionage or are found to pose a security threat.
Texas sued on Jan. 22, the day the deportation freeze was intended to take effect, arguing that it would endanger Texas citizens and law enforcement.
But in his most recent ruling, Tipton focused on Texas' arguments that the pause would cause financial harm — higher than anticipated costs for jailing those charged with crimes and for teaching children in public schools — if noncitizens were to be released instead of deported.
"Texas has established by a preponderance of the evidence that it could reasonably expect a 100-day pause to lead to a significant number of criminal aliens and unaccompanied children moving freely within and into Texas who would otherwise be removed," the judge wrote.