A federal judge on Tuesday barred the U.S. government from enforcing a 100-day deportation moratorium that is a key immigration priority of President Joe Biden.
U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton issued a temporary restraining order sought by Texas, which sued on Friday against a Department of Homeland Security memo that instructed immigration agencies to pause most deportations.
Mr. Tipton's order is an early blow to the Biden administration, which has proposed far-reaching changes sought by immigration advocates, including a plan to legalise an estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. Mr. Biden promised during his campaign to pause most deportations for 100 days.
The order represents a victory for Texas' Republican leaders, who often sued to stop programs enacted by Mr. Biden's Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama. It also showed that just as Democratic-led States and immigration groups fought former President Donald Trump over immigration in court, often successfully, so too will Republicans with Mr. Biden in office.
David Pekoske, the acting Homeland Security secretary, signed a memo on Mr. Biden's first day directing immigration authorities to focus on national security and public safety threats as well as anyone apprehended entering the U.S. illegally after November 1. That was a reversal from Trump administration policy that made anyone in the U.S. illegally a priority for deportation.
The 100-day moratorium went into effect Friday and applied to almost anyone who entered the U.S. without authorisation before November.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued that the moratorium violated federal law as well as an agreement Texas signed with the Department of Homeland Security late in the Trump administration.
That agreement required Homeland Security to consult with Texas and other States before taking any action to “reduce, redirect, reprioritize, relax, or in any way modify immigration enforcement.”
The Biden administration argued in court filings that the agreement is unenforceable because “an outgoing administration cannot contract away that power for an incoming administration.”
Mr. Paxton's office, meanwhile, submitted a Fox News opinion article as evidence that “refusal to remove illegal aliens is directly leading to the immediate release of additional illegal aliens in Texas.”
Mr. Paxton has championed conservative and far-right causes in court, including a failed lawsuit seeking to overturn Mr. Biden's victory over Mr. Trump, as he himself faces an FBI investigation over accusations by top former aides that he abused his office at the service of a donor.