The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday regarding whether the Biden administration has the authority to prioritize which unlawful migrants face deportation.
The Biden administration has pushed its own guidelines for deportation, prioritizing unlawful migrants convicted of felonies rather than ordering agents to deport all unlawful migrants, as was the policy under President Trump.
President Biden’s effort has been challenged by both Texas and Louisiana, whose attorneys general claim that under federal immigration law, the government has the responsibility to deport all unlawful migrants, not just those convicted of felonies.
The administration has claimed that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) doesn’t have the resources to deport the nation’s estimated 11 million unlawful migrants.
The case has reached the Supreme Court following the administration’s request to overturn a June ruling by a federal judge in favor of Texas and Louisiana.
During the two hours of argumentation, justices questioned whether the Biden administration’s guidelines violated federal immigration law, whether U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton had the authority to void the administration’s policy in his June decision, and whether Texas and Louisiana have suffered any harm significant enough to justify the lawsuit.
Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan generally showed support for the Biden administration, while Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and John Roberts appeared more divided.
“If Congress has passed a law that it is impossible for the executive to comply with, it’s our job to say what the law is, not whether or not it can be possibly implemented or whether there are difficulties there,” Justice Roberts said. “I don’t think we should change that responsibility just because Congress and the executive can’t agree on something if it’s possible to address this problem. I don’t think we should let them off the hook.”
Elizabeth B. Prelogar, solicitor general with the Department of Justice, argued that the federal government is simply aiming to use its resources more effectively.
“This is not about reducing enforcement of immigration laws. It’s about prioritizing limited resources to, say, go after Person A instead of Person B, and there’s no reason to conclude that that’s actually going to lead to less enforcement against individuals overall,” she said.
However, Judd E. Stone II, solicitor general with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, insisted that the federal government must deport every unlawful migrant and cannot ignore some simply because of its lack of resources.
He argued the Biden administration’s guidelines are “unlawful” because they treat federal immigration law as “discretionary” even though “this court and every previous administration have acknowledged it’s mandatory.”
The court is expected to make a final decision on the case by the end of June 2023.