By Andrew Chung
(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday gave President Joe Biden’s administration the green light to move ahead with guidelines shifting immigration enforcement toward countering public safety threats, handing him a victory on the politically contentious issue in a legal battle with Texas and Louisiana.
The justices ruled 8-1 in favor of the administration’s appeal of a judge’s ruling that had halted U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) guidelines narrowing the scope of those who can be targeted by immigration agents for arrest and deportation. The Republican attorneys general in those two states filed suit to challenge Biden’s policy.
The justices determined that the two states did not have legal standing to bring the legal challenge.
The guidelines reflected Biden’s recalibration of U.S. immigration policy after the hardline approach taken by his Republican predecessor Donald Trump, who sought to broaden the range of immigrants subject to arrest and removal.
Biden’s policy prioritized apprehending and deporting non-U.S. citizens who pose a threat to national security, public safety or border security, giving agents more discretion to consider individual circumstances.
Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who authored the ruling, wrote that lawsuits alleging that the government has made insufficient arrests or prosecutions “run up against” the authority of the executive branch to enforce federal law.
“The executive branch – not the judiciary – makes arrests and prosecutes offenses on behalf of the United States,” Kavanaugh wrote.
Conservative Justice Samuel Alito dissented from the decision.
In another immigration-related ruling on Friday, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s decision invalidating a federal law that makes it a crime for a person to encourage illegal immigration as a violation of constitutional free speech protections. Biden’s administration had defended the law.
Republicans have criticized Biden as weak on immigration policy, saying his policies including fewer detentions and deportations have encouraged more illegal border crossings. The issue of immigration could figure prominently in the 2024 U.S. presidential election, with Biden expected to seek a second term in office and Trump running for his party’s nomination.
U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton ruled in favor of Texas and Louisiana in June 2022, suspending the policy nationwide. Tipton was appointed by Trump. The Supreme Court the following month voted 5-4 not to block Tipton’s ruling halting the guidelines.
In announcing the new guidelines in 2021, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas cited the longstanding practice of government officials exercising discretion to decide who should be subject to deportation and said that most immigrants subject to deportation “have been contributing members of our communities for years.”
The administration has said that U.S. officials have long relied on setting enforcement priorities considering that there are estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally.
Texas and Louisiana argued that they would be harmed by having to spend more money on law enforcement and social services due to an increase in non-U.S. citizens present within their borders.
Biden’s administration argued that the two states lacked the proper legal standing to sustain the lawsuit because they have not suffered direct harm due to the policy.
During Biden’s first year in office, arrests and deportations of immigrants in the United States illegally declined compared to previous years. In the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2021, deportations dropped to 59,000 compared with 186,000 the prior year. In the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2022, such deportations reached 72,000.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)
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