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Texas sheriffs say ICE memo fueling crime along border

3 minute read

REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

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  • A February memo directed ICE officers to prioritize arresting certain immigrants
  • Sheriffs, ICE officer group say the directive has tied their hands and emboldened criminals

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(Reuters) - Four Texas sheriffs and a group representing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers filed a lawsuit on Thursday claiming the Biden administration is hobbling their ability to arrest and deport dangerous criminals.

In a complaint in Galveston, Texas federal court, the sheriffs and the Federal Police Foundation, ICE Officers Division said a February memo instructing officers to prioritize arresting individuals who pose a threat to national security or have been convicted of aggravated felonies has left them unable to detain people charged with other serious crimes.

The memo from Acting ICE Director Tae Johnson caused the number of arrests by ICE to plummet to fewer than 3,000 in April, compared with an average of more than 8,600 per month in fiscal year 2020, according to the complaint.

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"This standdown in ICE enforcement has fueled a crisis at the border and in other Texas counties, encouraging a massive surge in illegal immigration," the plaintiffs said, and is correlated to an increase in drug and gun offenses, human trafficking, money laundering and other crimes.

The plaintiffs are represented by former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach of Alliance for Free Citizens, and lawyers from the Immigration Reform Law Institute and McLeod Alexander Powel & Apffel.

The lawsuit comes a week after Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, issued an amended proclamation of disaster covering 28 counties due to what he said was a surge in illegal immigration.

ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Johnson's memo instructed ICE officers to refrain from placing individuals who are unlawfully present in the U.S. into removal proceedings unless they fall into a narrow category of "cases that are presumed to be priorities."

That includes threats to national security, suspected terrorists, people convicted of certain felonies and those who have arrived in the U.S. since November.

In order to take enforcement action against individuals who fall outside of those categories, ICE officers must obtain written pre-approval from field office directors or special agents in charge.

In Thursday's complaint, the plaintiffs said the process of seeking approval is time consuming and typically futile, as they have generally been denied.

The plaintiffs said the February memo violates federal immigration laws requiring the detention and initiation of removal of individuals who are illegally present in the U.S. The memo also violates the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires that regulations implementing immigration laws be adopted through a formal rulemaking process, they said.

The case is Coe v. Biden, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, No. 3:21-cv-00168.

For the plaintiffs: Kris Kobach of Alliance for Free Citizens; Christopher Hajec of the Immigration Reform Law Institute; Douglas Poole of McLeod Alexander Powel & Apffel

For the government: Not available

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.

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