By Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — A federal appeals court Monday sided with Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and kept in place rulings that blocked Biden administration immigration policies.
A panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request by the Biden administration for a stay of two rulings by Pensacola-based U.S. District Judge T. Kent Wetherell, who said the policies violated federal law.
The policies, known as “Parole Plus Alternatives to Detention” and “Parole with Conditions,” allowed releasing migrants into the United States amid issues such as overcrowding at detention facilities.
In a challenge filed by Moody’s office, Wetherell in March rejected Parole Plus Alternatives to Detention, also dubbed “Parole+ATD.” The U.S. Department of Homeland Security subsequently moved forward with the Parole with Conditions policy, but Wetherell in May issued a preliminary injunction to block it.
U.S. Department of Justice attorneys appealed to the Atlanta-based appeals court and asked for a stay of Wetherell’s decisions while the appeal moved forward. In part, the Justice Department argued that a stay was needed to prevent “irreparable harms” that could occur from conditions such as overcrowded detention facilities.
“The (Wetherell) orders frustrate the most effective measures available to DHS (the Department of Homeland Security) to secure the border while protecting the health and welfare of USBP (U.S. Border Patrol) agents and noncitizens during periods of increased border encounters that require immediate action by USBP to avoid overwhelming DHS capacity,” the Justice Department attorneys wrote in a May 19 motion. “DHS faces an exigent situation at the southwest border.”
But in rejecting the stay request Monday, the appeals court questioned the arguments about harms, saying the Department of Homeland Security’s “claims of irreparable injury ring somewhat hollow on this record, considering the department’s track record of overstating similar threats in the underlying (district court) proceedings.”
“The department’s ability to ascertain future harm is uncertain at best,” said the eight-page decision, written by Judge Barbara Lagoa and joined fully by Judge Robert Luck. “Given this record, we take DHS’s latest claims of impending disaster if it is not allowed to use either of the challenged policies with some skepticism.”
Judge Jill Pryor dissented in part, saying she would have granted a stay on the Parole with Conditions policy.
Lagoa and Luck are former Florida Supreme Court justices who were appointed to the appeals court by former President Donald Trump. Pryor was appointed by former President Barack Obama. Wetherell is a former state appellate judge who was appointed to the federal bench by Trump.
Moody and Gov. Ron DeSantis have long criticized federal immigration policies, with the state filing a lawsuit in September 2021 alleging that the Biden administration violated immigration laws through “catch-and-release” policies that led to people being released from detention after crossing the U.S. border. The state has contended, in part, that undocumented immigrants move to Florida, creating costs for such things as the education, health-care and prison systems.
The 2021 lawsuit ultimately led to Wetherell’s March ruling that blocked the Parole+ATD policy. Moody’s office then challenged the subsequent Parole with Conditions policy.
Monday’s ruling did not resolve the underlying legal issues in the appeal — it dealt only with the Biden administration’s request for a stay of Wetherell’s rulings.
But in a May 24 court document, Moody’s office said the dispute is about an “attempt to transform parole from a narrow safety valve into a primary processing mechanism for mass-releasing aliens into this country.”
“In both cases, the district court correctly recognized that DHS may not lawfully use parole as a principal method for processing and releasing aliens who unlawfully enter this country,” lawyers in Moody’s office wrote.