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Texas files first major lawsuit against Biden administration

Ken Paxton stands with hands in pockets on an airport tarmac, his tie blowing in the wind.
Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton at Love Field in Dallas on June 28, 2020.
(Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

Texas has sued the U.S. government for ordering a temporary halt to most deportations of undocumented immigrants, the first major lawsuit challenging President Biden’s policies just two days into his term and a likely sign of what’s to come from other Republican-led states.

Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton claims the directive breaches a deal reached between the state and the Department of Homeland Security less than two weeks before the end of the Trump administration, under which DHS agreed to consult with Texas before making any changes to deportation regulations. The changes amount to “blanket amnesty,” Paxton claims.

U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton in Victoria, Texas, heard arguments Friday on the state’s request for a temporary restraining order against the plan while the case proceeded. Tipton, a Donald Trump appointee, said he’d issue a decision later.

Paxton, a staunch Trump ally, blasted the federal government’s plan, saying it would harm Texas by preventing the state from deporting undocumented immigrants.

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“On its first day in office, the Biden Administration cast aside congressionally enacted immigration laws and suspended the removal of illegal aliens whose removal is compelled by those very laws,” Paxton said in the complaint. “In doing so, it ignored basic constitutional principles and violated its written pledge to work cooperatively with the State of Texas to address shared immigration enforcement concerns.”

Partisan clash

The suit highlights the clash between Biden’s pledge to reverse Trump’s efforts to clamp down on people in the U.S. illegally and Republicans who want to continue those policies. Biden plans to eventually offer a path to citizenship to the almost 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., which will likely trigger additional litigation.

“Texas is asking to run federal immigration law,” Adam Kirschner, a Justice Department lawyer, told the judge. The lawyer added that Texas was effectively arguing the Biden administration couldn’t do what it wanted “because the last administration — 12 days before it left office — gave us the veto.”

The lawsuit is the latest sign of the ongoing polarization of state attorneys general, said Douglas Gansler, a Democrat who was attorney general of Maryland from 2007 to 2015 and elected president of the National Assn. of Attorneys General in 2012.

“The Republican attorneys general brought many cases against the Obama Administration, often around the Affordable Care Act, and then the Democratic attorneys general brought many cases against the Trump Administration — this is unfortunately likely to be the first salvo of cases against the Biden Administration,” said Gansler, now a litigator at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP in Washington.

Paxton, who is under federal investigation for bribery and abuse of power allegations made by former aides, led a failed legal challenge by Republican attorneys general that sought to prevent Biden from taking office based on bogus allegations of election fraud. In his new lawsuit, the Texas official claims the current administration is failing to remove immigrants even after they’ve had “full and fair” hearings.

“The Constitution, controlling statutes, and prior Executive pledges prevent a seismic change to this country’s immigration laws merely by memorandum,” Paxton said in the suit.

The Department of Homeland Security’s press office declined to comment and referred questions to the White House. The White House didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment.


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