Florida fight over immigration now awaits ruling by federal judge
Attorney General Ashley Moody filed the lawsuit in 2021, alleging that the Biden administration has violated federal laws through policies that lead to releasing undocumented immigrants.
A four-day trial in Florida’s challenge to federal immigration policies ended last week in Pensacola, setting the stage for a U.S. district judge to issue a ruling.
Judge T. Kent Wetherell gave attorneys for the state and the Biden administration until Feb. 9 to file briefs, according to a court document.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody filed the lawsuit in 2021, alleging that the Biden administration has violated federal laws through policies that lead to releasing undocumented immigrants.
But U.S. Department of Justice attorneys have argued in court documents that the federal government has the authority to determine immigration policies and that Florida is asking Wetherell to “second-guess discretionary decisions by the Department of Homeland Security.” Wetherell started the trial Jan. 9 and finished it Thursday, according to court records.
Florida contends that the administration’s policies result in undocumented immigrants flowing into the state, increasing costs for services such as prisons, schools and health care. Moody also argues that undocumented immigrants cause public-safety problems, such as bringing deadly fentanyl into Florida.
“These policies harm Florida,” attorneys in Moody’s office wrote in an amended version of the lawsuit, filed in August. “The Biden administration is releasing tens of thousands of migrants at the border every month. Many of these migrants are arriving or will arrive in Florida, harming the state’s quasi-sovereign interests and forcing it to incur millions of dollars in expenses.”
But U.S. Department of Justice attorneys argued in an October court document that the federal government has the authority to determine immigration policies and that Florida is asking Wetherell to “second-guess discretionary decisions by the Department of Homeland Security about how to enforce immigration law most effectively and efficiently.”
“This court should decline Florida’s invitation to undermine the principles of federalism and separation of powers upon which the U.S. constitutional system is based,” the October document said.
Moody and Gov. Ron DeSantis have long bashed the Biden administration’s handling of border and immigration issues, with the DeSantis administration in September going so far as to fly 49 migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Other Republican governors also have bused migrants to Democratic-controlled places such as New York City and Washington, D.C.
In the lawsuit, Florida has alleged that the Biden administration is “systematically violating” federal laws by releasing migrants who are required to be detained. In part, it has alleged the federal government has enacted a “non-detention” policy and violated a law known as the Administrative Procedure Act.
But the Justice Department has argued that Florida does not have legal standing to pursue the lawsuit and has not proven that it has been injured by the federal government’s actions.
“Florida’s challenges to the alleged ‘non-detention’ policy are not redressable for the additional reason that they are nonjusticiable political questions,” the October document said. “Florida’s claims boil down to its disagreement with how defendants utilize various INA (Immigration and Naturalization Act) release mechanisms, and space and funding for prioritizing detention space.”
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