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Supreme Court rejects challenge to Biden administration's immigration rules


The U.S. Supreme Court today handed President Biden's administration a big victory on immigration policy. The administration had tried to set limits on whom immigration authorities can target for arrest and removal, but the states of Texas and Louisiana sued to block those guidelines. NPR's Joel Rose has been covering this case.

First off, Joel, tell us more about the guidelines and what the Biden administration had at stake here.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Yeah. This is a big deal in immigration circles for sure. The Biden administration had tried to set guidelines for immigration authorities because of limited resources, the administration said. There is wide agreement that there are just not enough detention beds for ICE agents to arrest everyone in the country illegally. So the Biden administration set priorities, instructed authorities to focus on suspected terrorists, criminals and recent border crossers and not to focus on people whose only offense is being illegally present in the U.S. And that was quickly challenged in court by the states of Texas and Louisiana. They argued that these guidelines go far beyond the guidance that previous administrations had set and that they were preventing immigration authorities from basically doing their jobs. And the case, you know, really boiled down to how much leeway the administration has to set its own immigration policies.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. And what did the Supreme Court decide?

ROSE: The court kind of sidestepped that core issue. They decided this case on the basis of standing. They said that Texas and Louisiana lacked the standing to challenge these guidelines. And the vote was not particularly close. It was 8-1. There were some differences over the exact legal rationale. Justices Kavanaugh and Roberts joined with the court's liberals in the majority opinion. Kavanaugh wrote that majority opinion, calling the state's lawsuit extraordinarily unusual. There were several concurring opinions from the other conservatives on the court. Only Justice Alito dissented.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So does that mean that it's a big victory lap for the Biden administration on immigration policy?

ROSE: You know, on first glance, it does look that way. I mean, they had lost this case at the trial court, and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision. So these guidelines will now be allowed to be enforced again. Zooming out a little bit, the bigger picture is that Texas and other states have filed many, many challenges to the Biden administration's immigration policies, and courts have generally given them broad leeway on questions of standing. So at the very least, this is going to give the Biden administration and its - and immigrant advocates and allies some new ammunition to push back on these standing questions in other cases. And, you know, it could have an impact on many of these other immigration cases that are still moving through courts, though I would caution that, you know, the Supreme Court did not get to some of the core legal questions about the guidelines themselves and what Congress really intended. So that could limit the impact to some extent.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, this decision's still pretty fresh. But what do you think the reaction's going to be from immigration hard-liners?

ROSE: On Twitter, It has been decidedly muted so far. But, I mean, they must be disappointed. As I said before, you know, they've been litigating many of the Biden administration's policies in court. They argue that rolling back former President Trump's hard-line immigration policies was a mistake. They say it has sent a message around the world to migrants that they will be allowed to stay in the U.S. and therefore that that's contributed to the record numbers of migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. You know, I would say also that this is the second year in a row that the Supreme Court has reversed a lower court ruling on immigration and sided with the Biden administration against state challenges. That did not stop those challenges last year. And, you know, it may not stop challenges from states this time, either.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Joel Rose.

Thanks for quickly putting this together, Joel.

ROSE: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.