Supreme Court Hands Biden Big Win on Immigration Enforcement

In a legal skirmish with Texas and Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court granted approval on Friday for President Joe Biden’s administration to proceed with guidelines refocusing immigration enforcement on combating threats to public safety, thereby securing a victory on the politically charged issue.

The Supreme Court justices, in an 8-1 decision, backed the administration’s appeal against a lower court ruling that had put on hold guidelines from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that aimed to limit the categories of individuals who could be targeted by immigration officers for arrest and deportation. The challenge to Biden’s policy was initiated by the Republican attorneys general of Texas and Louisiana.

The court determined that the two states lacked the legal standing to file the legal dispute. Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative member of the court, disagreed with the ruling.

The guidelines are a reflection of Biden’s restructuring of U.S. immigration policy, moving away from the stringent measures adopted by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, who endeavored to expand the categories of immigrants liable for arrest and deportation.

Under Biden’s approach, the focus is on identifying and deporting non-U.S. citizens who pose a risk to national security, public safety, or border security, allowing officers more flexibility to take individual circumstances into account.

Republicans have assailed Biden for what they perceive as a lax stance on immigration policy, arguing that his measures, including reduced detentions and deportations, have incentivized more unauthorized border crossings. As the 2024 U.S. presidential election approaches, with Biden likely to pursue a second term and Trump vying for his party’s nomination, immigration is expected to be a key issue.

In June 2022, U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton, a Trump appointee, sided with Texas and Louisiana, halting the policy across the country. The Supreme Court, the following month, voted 5-4 against blocking Tipton’s ruling, which suspended the guidelines.

Upon the announcement of the new guidelines in 2021, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas referenced the long-established practice of officials exercising discretion in determining who should face deportation, noting that most of the immigrants subject to deportation “have been contributing members of our communities for years.”

The administration has contended that setting enforcement priorities has been a long-standing approach for U.S. officials, given the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country.

Texas and Louisiana maintained that they would be burdened with increased expenses on law enforcement and social services due to a rise in non-U.S. citizens within their states.

The Biden administration argued that the states did not have the proper legal standing to sustain the lawsuit, as they had not experienced direct harm from the policy.

In Biden’s first year of presidency, the number of arrests and deportations of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. declined compared to previous years. Deportations fell to 59,000 in the fiscal year ending on Sept. 30, 2021, down from 186,000 the prior year. By the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2022, deportations had increased to 72,000.