A court ruling told the Biden administration it cannot selectively choose which illegal immigrants convicted of crimes deserve immediate deportation.
Homeland Security argued it has limited resources to enforce every removal order.
An opinion by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Biden administration has to follow the federal laws put in place by Congress that all immigrants who commit crimes must be detained and removed.
"It takes the Biden administration back a step," said David Coale, who is a constitutional law attorney.
The opinion said ICE and Border Patrol agents can no longer follow Biden administration guidelines about what class of criminal immigrants will be detained and deported.
Federal law says immigration officials must detain and remove out of the country immigrants who have committed certain criminal offenses or violations.
"The Biden administration had adopted a policy that put in place a hierarchy, an order of importance, they were going to go after some cases, but not go after other cases," Coal explained.
For example, agents were told to prioritize cases involving aggravated felonies over some drug offenses, or criminal immigrants who participated in sex or human trafficking.
Cases where the government already secured convictions.
A federal appeals court in another part of the country ruled the Biden administration could do just that, but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said no.
"In a case brought by Texas saying, ‘Hey, wait a minute. You're supposed to take care of these people, not be giving to us, the state authorities, to deal with,’" Coale said. "It’s people that have a higher risk of causing a problem in society. They've either been convicted of something, or in some way, they've violated the criminal law. Not a huge number of people, but as the opinion points out, they tend to commit more crimes than your average person does. There's a serious recidivism issue."
Coale expects the government will argue it doesn't have space to hold this group.
"Because it’s a smaller group of people, you can probably find the space somewhere. We're not talking about thousands of people having to make massive arrangements and interfering with public policy," Coale said. "You're talking about people, but it’s not that many, and it’s a set of people that you really should be equipped to deal with."
This opinion by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is not what the Biden administration was hoping for.
The government will need to continue to defend its enforcement priorities or issue new guidance to federal agents.