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A Supreme Court decision cleared the way for Biden's immigration policy


The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday cleared the way for the Biden administration to reinstate its strategy on immigration enforcement. That enforcement strategy had been blocked after a legal challenge by the states of Texas and Louisiana. Yesterday's high court ruling could have broader implications for other immigration cases as well. NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration, and he joins us now for more. Hi, Joel.


PARKS: So tell us a little bit more about this case. What was at stake?

ROSE: Yeah, this is a closely watched case because what's at stake is really how much authority the Biden administration, or any administration, has to set immigration policy. It's widely agreed that there are not enough resources for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to simply arrest everyone who is in the country without authorization. So the Biden administration said, we want to use our prosecutorial discretion to set priorities, to focus on suspected terrorists and threats to public safety and on recent border crossers.

And crucially, under this guidance, simply being present in the U.S. without authorization is generally not a reason to detain someone. These priorities were quickly challenged in court by the states of Texas and Louisiana, and they argued that the guidelines go far beyond the priorities of past administrations and are basically preventing immigration authorities from doing their jobs. The lower court agreed and blocked this guidance last year.

PARKS: OK. So what did the Supreme Court decide?

ROSE: The court ruled that Texas and Louisiana lacked the standing to challenge these guidelines in the first place because the states had not shown a direct injury from these enforcement priorities, at least not one that could be redressed by the courts. The vote was 8-1. Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the court's liberals. There were several concurring opinions from the other conservatives that reach roughly the same conclusion, but by slightly different legal rationales. Only Justice Samuel Alito dissented, finding that Texas and Louisiana should have been able to sue in this case.

PARKS: This feels like a pretty big win for the Biden administration. Is that right?

ROSE: It's definitely a win in the short run because the Biden administration can officially begin enforcing these priorities again. In the long run, I think it's harder to say. In the majority opinion, Justice Kavanaugh writes several times about how narrow this decision is, that the court decided the standing questions on the facts that were before it in this case, but that there might be another case where the states would have standing to sue. So some legal analysts are saying, do not read too much into this ruling, including Stephen Yale-Loehr, who teaches law at Cornell University.

STEPHEN YALE-LOEHR: The court's decision was pretty narrow. From a larger legal perspective, it doesn't really resolve the issue of when states can and cannot sue to challenge federal policies whether they're immigration or otherwise. And so the battle will continue on those fronts.

PARKS: Well, and the Biden administration has been sued a number of times by Texas and other states over its immigration policies. What does this ruling mean for - in those other instances?

ROSE: That's really the big question. I mean, we're talking about cases with a lot at stake. There's a case about the future, for example, of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, you know, that is likely heading for the Supreme Court. DACA, by the way, protects immigrants who are brought to the U.S. as children. So this decision on standing could be a big deal. Certainly, it's going to give the Biden administration and immigrant advocates fresh ammunition to argue that states that are challenging these policies should not get standing in those cases either.

What we really don't know is how well that argument is going to work - right? - I mean, how much weight lower court judges will decide to give this Supreme Court ruling. I think the bottom line is that there's going to be more litigation. You know, this is the second time in two years that the Supreme Court has sided with the Biden administration against states in these big immigration cases. But that ruling last year did not stop states from challenging immigration policies in court. I don't think this one is likely to do that either.

PARKS: That's NPR's Joel Rose.

Thank you so much for monitoring this, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.
Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.