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Federal Judge Rejects Florida’s Efforts to Stop Biden Administration’s Immigration Directives


Then-candidate Joe Biden gestures during a campaign stop outside Johnstown Train Station September 30, 2020 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The state of Florida cannot stop the Biden administration from enforcing a pair of immigration directives just because it “simply disagrees” with those priorities, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday evening, finding that his agencies’ discretionary decisions were not subject to judicial review.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) filed the lawsuit in March after the administration issued a January memo to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and a February memo to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which halted the detention of certain immigrants who had previously been to prison. The administration justified the temporary measure as an effort to prioritize more dangerous and violent offenders with the agencies’ limited resources.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, alleged that in issuing the immigration guidance, Biden and his cabinet officials had “violated their oaths of office, flouted Congressional statutes, failed to protect U.S. citizens and immigrants alike, and created what will quickly become a public-safety nightmare.”

“The Biden Administration cannot simply order federal immigration officials to ignore the clear commands of Congress,” the suit alleged, adding, “This unprecedented, flagrant disregard for the public safety of Americans and Floridians is a radical departure from even Obama-era policy.”

Florida argued that the interim policies should be enjoined for violating the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) “pending judicial review.”

The administration contended that because only final agency actions are reviewable under the APA, the statute was not applicable to interim policies that were only intended to last a few months.

In a 23-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell, an appointee of President Barack Obama, sided with the administration, concluding that the court “cannot conclude that the memos constitute the agency’s definitive position,” and did not “constitute final agency action reviewable under the APA.”

“Clearly, the interim policies are a work in progress as evidenced by the additions to the policies from the January 20 memo to the February 18 memo. Moreover, the February 18 memo indicates that the Secretary is continuing to get input from the leadership of ICE, CBP, and DHS. The guidelines are just that; they are not statutes and do not have the status of law as they constitute a prioritization and not a prohibition of enforcement,” the order stated. “The ordering of priorities is not a refusal to act, but rather is a specific choice to act as it relates to certain matters over others,” Honeywell added. “Here, Florida simply disagrees with the choices made by the Biden Administration as to the priorities.”

Law&Crime contacted Moody’s office regarding the decision but did not receive a response before publication.

Read the full order below.

Florida Order.pdf by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via Alex Wong/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.