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Arizona, Montana suing Biden admin to block ICE rules limiting illegal immigrant arrests, deportations

This photo comes from the second national wave of Operation Cross Check, an effort by ICE to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants with criminal records. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Released)
March 10, 2021

Arizona and Montana are suing the Biden administration this week over new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rules – which narrowed arrest and deportation standards for illegal immigrants – alleging the policies would have damaging consequences in their states.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed a lawsuit on Monday challenging the new administration’s 100-day pause on deportations, a move that was blocked indefinitely in Texas federal court after Texas argued the policy violated an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security that border states would be part of significant changes to border policy.

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen joined the Arizona lawsuit, with both states filing a motion for preliminary injunction to prevent the policy from going into effect while the case is heard.

Since the court’s decision in Texas, Brnovich’s lawsuit has been amended to focus on the new ICE rules, which include requiring officers to make written requests for supervisors approval to deport “low priority” illegal immigrants, including drunken drivers, certain domestic assault offenders, identity theft convicts and other felons whose crimes aren’t “aggravated.”

Only high-level felons, national security risks, and repeat border crossers are still considered high priority and would not require pre-approval for enforcement under the new rules. Additionally, ICE officers will be required to alert communities before trying to make “at-large” arrests.

“If asked about the poorest policy choice I’ve ever seen in government, this would be a strong contender,” Brnovich said in a statement on Tuesday. “Blindly releasing thousands of people, including convicted criminals and those who may be spreading COVID-19 into our state, is both unconscionable and a violation of federal law. This must be stopped now to avoid a dangerous humanitarian crisis for the immigrants and the people of Arizona.”

Both attorneys general argue that the policy will increase the presence of criminals, drugs, and COVID-19 in their respective states, in addition to being in violation of federal law. They also allege that the guidance will lead to an increase in healthcare and law enforcement costs.

“Meth trafficked into Montana by Mexican drug cartels has wracked our state. The problem will only be made worse if the Biden administration continues to allow criminals to stay in the country,” Knudsen said in a statement on Tuesday. “Enforcing our immigration laws and helping to keep Americans safe is one of the federal government’s most important functions. The Biden administration is failing its basic responsibility to Americans.”

The lawsuit includes declarations from law enforcement and others who argue Arizona and Montana will be damaged by the new rules.

Last year, ICE deported almost 185,000 migrants, but the record for deportations occurred in 2012 under former President Barack Obama with nearly 420,000.

“By focusing our limited resources on cases that present threats to national security, border security, and public safety, our agency will more ably and effectively execute its law enforcement mission,” ICE acting Director Tae Johnson said in a statement.