Florida federal judge temporarily blocks Biden’s migrant parole policy

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A federal judge in Florida temporarily blocked the Biden administration from carrying out parts of its latest immigration plan in a Thursday night ruling that came as tens of thousands of migrants amassed at the southern border.

Siding with Florida and the administration of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, U.S. District Judge T. Kent Wetherell ordered the federal government to stand down from its proposed move to “parole” migrants crossing the southern border through Texas. The Biden administration has been preparing for a substantial influx of arrivals ahead of the Covid-era Title 42 rules expiring at midnight and now is locked in a legal saga.

Wetherell, in an order that came down around 9:30 p.m., determined that he “fails to see a material difference” between the Biden administration’s new parole policy and the one the judge determined was unconstitutional in March.

The Thursday ruling builds on a previous lawsuit filed by Florida against the Biden administration that asserted authorities were ignoring a federal law requiring migrants entering the country illegally to be detained. That lawsuit criticized a parole and “alternatives to detention” policy created in November 2021 and since modified.

“… In both instances, aliens are being released into the country on an expedited basis without being placed in removal proceedings and with little to no vetting and no monitoring,” Wetherell, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, wrote in a 17-page order.

In the order, Wetherell granted the temporary restraining order sought by the DeSantis administration in Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s lawsuit. It’s set to go into effect at 11:59 p.m. — coinciding with the expiration of Title 42 — to give the Biden Administration a chance to pursue a stay from a higher court.

Additionally, the judge set an injunction hearing for May 19 in Pensacola.

Attorneys for the Biden administration on Thursday afternoon urged Wetherell to deny Florida’s attempt to block the polices they contend are “necessary to address an imminent and dramatic increase [of[] arrivals at the southwest border.”

“The Court should deny this request to limit the Executive’s authority to carry out a core Executive function, managing the border, particularly on an emergency basis without the benefit of full briefing on the eve of an expected dramatic increase in arrivals at the border,” they wrote in a motion opposing the move.

Title 42 is a reference to a section of the U.S. Code addressing public health, social welfare and civil rights that the Trump administration in 2020 implemented to turn people away at the border on public health grounds amid the pandemic. But with this expiring May 11, the Biden administration is preparing to release migrants in the U.S. on “parole,” with the understanding they are to report to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.

Through the lawsuit filed Thursday, Florida is attempting to spur the Biden administration — Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and other federal officials — to explain how their latest immigration plan does not violate that March ruling.

Wetherell, in compelling a response from the federal government, suggested it “appears that DHS is preparing to flout the Court’s order,” noting that the new policy “sounds virtually identical” to the one that the court vacated months ago.

But attorneys for the Biden administration disagree, arguing that there are “important distinctions” between the two policies — notably that “grant of parole is time limited and the policy focuses to an even greater degree on ensuring the health and safety of individuals.” They defended the federal government’s response on immigration and asked the judge to allow for a hearing before making a decision and for a temporary court stay if he does rule.

“DHS is exercising all available authority to address the anticipated surge in migrants, but its available staffing and facilities to safely process and issue charging documents to record numbers of new arrivals are limited,” wrote the Biden legal team including Brian Boynton, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General. “In the face of an imminent crisis, DHS must make use of all available statutory authority Congress has granted it to process migrants, including parole.”

Florida, along with other Republican-led states such as Texas, has been sharply critical of immigration policies pursued by the Biden administration. DeSantis, who is expected to run for president, pushed for the creation of a contentious migrant relocation program that resulted in the state flying nearly 50 migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last September and is now gearing up for more flights in the coming days.