U.S. judge rejects GOP lawsuit that tried to stop Biden from paroling in migrants

The Biden administration won a major legal victory Friday in its effort to reduce illegal immigration at the southern border, when a federal judge in Texas ruled the government may continue a program that accepts 360,000 migrants a year from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti.

U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton, who has ruled against other Biden administration immigration policies, said Republican opponents of the program, known as parole, for those countries failed to prove that their states were being harmed by it. The parole expansion is a key part of President Biden’s border policy at a time of surging border crossings and a reelection campaign where immigration and border policies are front and center.

“The Court finds that Plaintiffs have not proven that Texas has suffered an injury and therefore do not have standing to maintain this suit,” Tipton, a Trump appointee in the southern district of Texas, wrote in a 31-page ruling dismissing the case.

The decision preserves a Biden administration policy that officials credit for reducing overcrowding on the southern border. Unauthorized crossings by Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians, have plunged since officials launched the policy in January 2023. The policy requires migrants to have a U.S. sponsor, undergo background checks and arrive in the United States legally at airports, where officials will admit them using the emergency authority known as parole.

White House spokesman Angelo Fernández Hernández welcomed Tipton’s ruling, and said it shows the Biden administration’s policies are working.

“The district court’s decision is based on the success of this program,” Fernández Hernández said in an email. “The Biden-Harris Administration remains committed to expanding lawful pathways to the United States, while delivering consequences to those who do not avail themselves of these processes and have no legal basis to remain in the United States.”

Texas and 20 other states had argued that the Biden administration unlawfully expanded the authority without consulting Congress or considering the impact on U.S. states that absorb the newcomers.

Texas’s Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, who filed the multistate lawsuit against the parole program for the four countries in January 2023, had no immediate comment Friday.

“This is the result we were hoping for,” Karen Tumlin, founder and director of the Los Angeles-based legal nonprofit Justice Action Center, said in a phone interview, adding that the program had helped thousands of migrants fleeing danger and poverty seek permission to enter the United States legally and to find work.

“It’s a huge victory for the Biden administration,” she said. “We would want them to do more of this. It isn’t just Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans who need these kinds of pathways.”

Biden administration officials said they created the program because large numbers of migrants from those countries were crossing illegally. They have been difficult to deport because of tense U.S. relations with the authoritarian regimes of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela and violence in Haiti. The program began with Venezuela in late 2022 and expanded to the other countries.

The administration’s overall border strategy has been to create more legal pathways into the United States such as parole while threatening tougher penalties such as deportation to those who cross the border illegally.

Unlawful border crossings by people from Haiti, Cuba and Nicaragua declined significantly since the program launched, according to Customs and Border Protection statistics. Attempted crossings by Venezuelans have varied, dropping in some months and rising sharply in others.

The Biden administration has said that parole created an orderly way for migrants to apply for asylum and, because they had sponsors willing to resettle them, ensured that cities and towns were prepared to absorb them. Migrants’ travels are also safer, officials say, allowing them to use U.S. airports and skip dangerous treks through Central American jungles and cities in Mexico.

After arriving in the United States, migrants may apply for two-year work permits and asylum or another immigration status, such as permanent residency through an immediate relative.

Biden administration officials say migrants still could be deported if they are ineligible to stay permanently.

In contrast, migrants who surrender on the U.S.-Mexico border may be held in crowded Border Patrol jails, then released to shelters in cities such as Chicago and New York that have been straining to keep up with the newcomers.

During a bench trial before Tipton in August, Texas officials argued that the border state has a special interest in protecting its budget and ensuring that federal immigration officials enforce the law.

Among the financial burdens Texas suffered, they argued, were the state’s cost in issuing driver’s licenses and providing health care and education. The state argued that the parole program would increase the number of migrants in the state and therefore, increase its costs.

But Tipton said the data during the trial showed that arrivals crossings from the four groups declined, costing Texas less money. Should Texas show the state is harmed by the program in the future, he signaled in the lawsuit, a different decision could follow.

Justice Department lawyers had defended the federal parole authority during the trial, noting it has existed since the 1950s to admit foreign nationals quickly. They said the program is a rational solution that should help border states such as Texas by reducing the number of new border-crossers.

Tipton has blocked Biden’s immigration policies before. The judge stopped Biden’s 100-day pause on deportations shortly after the president took office.

In August 2021, Tipton halted a Biden administration policy that sought to spare millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States from being deported. The Supreme Court rejected his argument and reinstated the policy in June, saying the administration had the right to set its own enforcement priorities.

In a separate decision Friday, Tipton temporarily blocked the Biden administration from halting construction on the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and redirecting the money to environmental mitigation and other purposes. Texas, Missouri and the Texas General Land Office had sued arguing that Congress had authorized border-wall construction and that Biden was required to carry it out.

Tipton stayed his order for seven days so the government could appeal, but the Justice Department had no immediate comment on his ruling Friday. Paxton cheered the ruling in a news release.

Nick Miroff contributed to this report.

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