Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody files lawsuit over Biden’s immigration moves

The federal lawsuit, filed in Tampa, contends that recent directives violate federal immigration laws.
Attorney General Ashley Moody. [times | (2019)]
Attorney General Ashley Moody. [times | (2019)] [ Times (2019) ]
Published March 15, 2021|Updated March 15, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has filed a federal lawsuit challenging immigration moves by President Joe Biden’s administration, contending that the decisions threaten public safety.

“The Biden administration’s actions will allow criminal aliens to be released into and move freely in the state of Florida, and their resulting crime will cost the state millions of dollars on law enforcement, incarceration, and crime victim’s assistance,” said the 28-page lawsuit, filed March 8 in Tampa. “It will also cause unquantifiable harm to Florida’s citizenry and will force the state to expend its own law enforcement resources to pick up the slack.”

The lawsuit focuses on memos issued Jan. 20 and Feb. 18 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about immigration enforcement.

The Jan. 20 memo from the Department of Homeland Security, in part, outlined that the agency was undertaking a review of policies and practices and said it was setting a 100-day “pause on certain removals to enable focusing the department’s resources where they are most needed.”

After a federal judge in Texas blocked the 100-day pause, Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued the Feb. 18 memo, which made revisions to the Jan. 20 directive and detailed “interim priorities” for enforcement actions. That included focusing on immigrants who pose national security threats, have been convicted of aggravated felonies, have been convicted of gang-related activity or have been apprehended at the border since Nov. 1.

But Moody’s lawsuit contends that the directives violate federal immigration laws and what is known as the Administrative Procedure Act and should be blocked.

“Within hours of being sworn in, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., and members of his administration violated their oaths of office, flouted congressional statutes, failed to protect U.S. citizens and immigrants alike, and created what will quickly become a public-safety nightmare,” the lawsuit by the Republican attorney general said.

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The lawsuit argues that, as a result of the memos, Immigration and Customs Enforcement “is refusing to take custody of scores of criminal aliens across the state — resulting in their release into Florida.” It said the Florida Department of Corrections has had seven instances in which the federal agency refused to take custody of people being released by the state because those people did not meet the criteria of being enforcement priorities.

Also, the lawsuit said the directives could lead to Immigration and Custom Enforcement canceling detainers that are used to hold undocumented immigrants in county jails.

The memos, which are attached as exhibits in the lawsuit, indicate that federal officials were trying to prioritize activities as they review immigration enforcement policies after Biden replaced former President Donald Trump.

“The United States faces significant operational challenges at the Southwest border as it is confronting the most serious global public health crisis in a century,” Acting Department of Homeland Secretary David Pekoske wrote in the Jan. 20 memo. “In light of those unique circumstances, the department must surge resources to the border in order to ensure safe, legal and orderly processing, to rebuild fair and effective asylum procedures that respect human rights and due process, to adopt appropriate public health guidelines and protocols, and to prioritize responding to threats to national security, public safety, and border security.”

The memo added, “Due to limited resources, DHS cannot respond to all immigration violations or remove all persons unlawfully in the United States. Rather, DHS must implement civil immigration enforcement based on sensible priorities and changing circumstances. DHS’s civil immigration enforcement priorities are protecting national security, border security, and public safety.”

Related: Reckless immigration reversal endangers Floridians | Column

Moody’s office filed a motion on March 9 seeking a hearing on its request for a preliminary injunction. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell and U.S. Magistrate Judge Sean Flynn.

By Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida