The White House lashed out over the weekend after Obama-picked federal judges on both coasts issued rulings undercut President Trump’s attempt to gain a handle on the migrant surge, derailing administration moves to give Homeland Security the power to detain and deport more people more quickly.
One judge in California ruled against the administration’s attempt to boost the amount of time migrant families can be held in dorm-like detention facilities — a key step, security experts say, in being able to deport them.
Hours later another judge in Washington ruled that the administration went too far when it tried to expand a speedy deportation power that has long existed near the border to the interior of the country.
Yet a third Obama-appointed judge ruled that deportation officers can’t solely rely on certain databases to flag immigrants in the U.S. without permission who merit deportation.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said it was the judges, not the Trump administration, that’s getting the law wrong.
“For two-and-a-half years, the Trump administration has been trying to restore enforcement of the immigration laws passed by Congress. And for two-and-a-half years, misguided lower court decisions have been preventing those laws from ever being enforced — at immense cost to the whole country,” she said.
She pointed to the speedy deportations ruling as a chief example.
“Expedited removal” has been part of federal law for decades, and has been upheld as a valid tool to remove people without having to go through a lengthy immigration court process. The Bush and Obama administrations limited use to within 100 miles of the border, but the Trump administration says the law contains no such restriction.
“That tool is vital to addressing the many aliens in the United States who have no right to remain here. A single judge is now prohibiting the Government from enforcing the law as written,” Ms. Grisham said.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, appointed by President Obama in 2013 to the district court in Washington, D.C., said the administration cut too many procedural corners in changing the expedited removal guidelines and discounted the potential dangers of snaring citizens or others in the speeded-up process.
She issued a nationwide injunction to remain in place while she hears full arguments in the case.
“At the very least, it would seem that some consideration of how many people might be erroneously swept up in the expanded expedited-removal dragnet, and/or how often such identification errors have occurred with respect to the agency’s expedited-removal practices in the past, would be in order,” she wrote.
Perhaps even more momentous was the ruling by Judge Dolly M. Gee in California.
She shot down Homeland Security’s attempt to nix the Flores settlement, a Clinton-era court agreement that she updated in 2015 to limit the amount of time immigrant families who are in the U.S. illegally can be held in detention.
That 2015 ruling caps detention at about 20 days, which is far too short to complete the families’ immigration cases. Once released, the cases get delayed for years, giving the families a chance to disappear into the shadows.
Judge Gee’s 2015 ruling has been blamed for inviting the surge of migrant families that reached record levels this year — and led to children being abducted or rented to adults trying to portray as families to take advantage of the “loophole.”
At its peak in May, the Border Patrol nabbed nearly 85,000 migrants that month who tried to sneak into the U.S. as families. That was more than 20 times higher than the number arrested in May 2015, before Judge Gee’s ruling took effect.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin K. McAleenan had proposed a replacement for the Flores settlement that would allow detention until deportation, in dorm-like facilities subject to standards.
Judge Gee, in a brief ruling Friday, said Mr. McAleenan’s proposal fell short of Flores, so she wouldn’t allow it as a replacement.
“The Flores Agreement is a binding contract and a consent decree,” she wrote. “Defendants cannot simply ignore the dictates of the consent decree merely because they no longer agree with its approach as a matter of policy.”
Ms. Grisham complained that Judge Gee had upended the detention system Congress has written into law by “creating a new system out of judicial whole cloth.”
“This destructive end-run around the detention and removal system Congress created must end,” she said.