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Texas sheriffs sue President Biden for limiting deportations

Four Texas sheriffs and an association of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers sued the Biden administration Thursday, claiming its policy limiting ICE from taking most arrested immigrants into custody for deportation is allowing “extremely dangerous illegal aliens” to be released onto the streets.

As part of President Joe Biden’s pledge to take a more humane approach to immigration enforcement compared to the harsh policies of former President Donald Trump, the Biden administration issued a memo Feb. 18 directing ICE to focus on deporting immigrants who are national security or terrorist threats, gang members, those who have been convicted of certain aggravated felonies and any that entered the country after Nov. 1.

ICE officers who want to take into custody jailed immigrants falling outside those categories must first obtain approval from their bosses.

Represented by Trump ally and anti-immigration hardliner Kris Kobach, Kansas’ former secretary of state, the Texas counties of Hudspeth, Kinney, Edwards and McMullen and their sheriffs claim the deportation dial back has increased their crime-response costs because immigrants who are released commit more crimes, and it “encourages additional criminal aliens” to enter the U.S. illegally. 

They claim Biden’s policy is preventing ICE officers from seizing immigrants whose detention is mandated by the Immigration and Nationality Act.

“Specifically, detention is required for aliens who have committed or been convicted of numerous crimes other than aggravated felonies, such as: crimes of moral turpitude, crimes involving controlled substances, human trafficking, money laundering, and certain firearm offenses,” the lawsuit states.

The new policy has also led to a precipitous decline in ICE arrests, the challengers say: “In April 2021, ICE carried out fewer than 3,000 arrests, the lowest number on record.”

The lawsuit cites the criminal backgrounds of eight unauthorized immigrants who the plaintiffs say have benefited from the Biden administration’s lax policy.

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The sheriffs and counties, joined by co-plaintiff Federal Police Foundation, ICE Officers Division, says ICE higherups denied ICE officers’ request for preapproval to place a detainer on a man being held in a county jail following his arrest on drug, aggravated assault and child endangerment charges.

They claim the man rammed a police car with his vehicle, nearly hitting an officer, while fleeing with a baby in the backseat and had a quarter pound of heroin on him.

In addition, they say Biden’s new policy led ICE management to deny ICE officers’ request for preapproval to arrest an immigrant who has been convicted of sexually assaulting a minor under 14.

The Biden administration’s guidance has even derailed detainer requests ICE officers put in before Biden took office, the plaintiffs say.

A man in the country illegally after being deported, who has been convicted of indecency with a child, got a pass from deportation, the plaintiffs claim, because Biden’s memo ordered an evaluation of all cases.

“Following this evaluation, ICE officers were directed to remove the detainer and were given the explanation that the alien’s conviction was too old to warrant his removal and that he did not pose a threat to public safety. As a result, this dangerous, previously deported, criminal alien remains on the street,” the complaint states.

The plaintiff counties note in the lawsuit they were all named in a disaster declaration Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued May 31 for 34 counties on, or near, the Mexico border.

The Republican governor claims residents of the designated counties are suffering from widespread property crimes and violent crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, who are being apprehended by Border Patrol agents at levels not seen since the early 2000s due to what Abbott calls the Biden administration’s open-border policies.

But Abbott’s characterization of the situation as a full-blown crisis, and June 16 announcement he will use state funds and donations to build walls at the border and jail trespassing immigrants and denigration of Biden for ending wall construction by the federal government that was spearheaded by Trump, did not sit well with leaders of 11 counties, including Hidalgo, who had the governor remove their counties from the disaster declaration list.

Both Hidalgo County’s chief elected official Richard Cortez and the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office told Courthouse News on Wednesday there is no evidence immigrants are committing violent crimes.

Hidalgo County’s seat, McAllen, is just across the Rio Grande from Reynosa, Mexico.

In their lawsuit, the challengers seek an injunction allowing ICE officers to take into custody all undocumented immigrants whose detention or deportation, they say, is required by federal immigration law and who previously would have been transferred to ICE custody under “’287(g)’ agreements” their counties have with the agency.

ICE’s 287(g) program allows state and local law enforcement agencies to partner with ICE to help it enforce immigration laws.

The plaintiffs include Kinney County Sheriff Brad Coe, Edwards County Sheriff J.W. Guthrie, McMullen County Sheriff Emmett Shelton and Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West.

They claim the Biden administration’s memo establishing its detention and deportation policies violates three federal immigration statutes and the Administrative Procedure Act.

In addition to Biden, the lawsuit names as defendants Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Tae Johnson, ICE’s acting director and Troy Miller, acting chief of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

DHS did not immediately respond Thursday evening to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

Kobach is representing the plaintiffs through his law firm the Alliance for Free Citizens. Joining him as co-counsel is Christopher Hajec, of the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a Washington nonprofit affiliated with the anti-immigration group the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

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11 counties had Texas Governor Greg Abbott remove their counties from the disaster declaration list issued May 31.

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