Where the US stands on migrant laws

In a sweeping decision, the US Supreme Court rejected two conservative states’ push to enforce more aggressive law enforcement initiatives against undocumented immigrants. 

The ruling in late June marked a major win to the Biden administration, as the 8-1 decision revives the president’s immigration guideline. Justice Samuel Alito was the only dissenter. 

A migrant family crosses the sidewalk as others stand outside of the Inn of Chicago at 162 E. Ohio Street on Thursday, June 29, 2023. The Inn of Chicago is currently housing 1,398 migrants, the largest of the city’s existing shelters. (Photo by Addison Annis)

Missouri was one of the states with conservative attorneys general who had called upon the court to force the Biden administrations to deport more undocumented immigrants. Former Missouri Attorney General, now U.S. Sen. Eric Schmitt, had joined the legal action by Texas and Louisiana.

The Supreme Court ruled that the two states did not have legal standing to challenge the Biden policies. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, wrote that the court had never ordered “the Executive Branch to change its arrest or prosecution policies so that the Executive Branch makes more arrests or initiates more prosecution.”

Texas, Louisiana and conservative legal allies such as Missouri had wanted to arrest and expel immigrants whose only offense was being undocumented; the Biden administration policy expels only those who have committed felonies. Biden officials had noted that the government did not have the resources to round up, arrest and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Biden’s Homeland Security guidelines aimed to focus on “national security, public safety and border security.” The Biden administration’s new ruling worked to undo policies put in place by the Trump administration, which allowed anyone who is in the country without legal documentation to be deported. 

Biden’s immigration initiatives seeks to provide pathways to citizenship and strengthen labor protections by 

  • creating an “earned” roadmap for undocumented individuals, 
  • aiming to keep families together, 
  • embracing diversity, which includes a “No Ban Act,” 
  • promoting immigrant and refugee integration and citizenship, according to the administration’s Immigration System. 

In the case, Texas v. Biden, U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton, a Trump appointee, ruled in the state’s favor, findingthat Department of Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ memo regarding the amended guidelines was illegal. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) called the new policies “outrageous” in a tweet.  

“SCOTUS gives the Biden Admin. carte blanche to avoid accountability for abandoning enforcement of immigration laws,” Abbott wrote. “Texas will continue to deploy the National Guard to repel & turn back illegal immigrants trying to enter Texas illegally.”

Last year, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote refused to allow Biden’s immigration enforcement guidelines to take effect, but the justices agreed to hear arguments on the legal dispute and now have agreed with the president.

Despite the win for the president, migration guidelines will become stricter if individuals fail to use the pathways outlined by the administration. Title 8, which outlines deportation processes, remains in play, which allows individuals who cross the border illegally without legal documentation to be deported. 

According to the International Organization for Migration, in 2020 approximately 281 million people – about 3.6% of the world’s population – live as migrants. 

Governors in the US have been feuding over how to handle the influx of migrants into the states. The Republican governors of Florida, Texas and Arizona have transported migrants to northern cities, including Chicago and New York, overwhelming these Democratic-led cities.

Olivia Cohen is Chicago-based freelancer currently reporting in Washington, D.C. on a summer internship for Bloomberg Law.

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