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Fla. Attorney General Appeals After Immigration Ruling

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody speaks during a roundtable discussion at the White House on June 8, 2020.
Patrick Semansky
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody speaks during a roundtable discussion at the White House on June 8, 2020.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody quickly launched an appeal Wednesday after a federal judge refused to block immigration-enforcement moves by President Joe Biden’s administration.

U.S. District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell issued a 23-page ruling Tuesday rejecting Florida’s request for a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit that Moody filed in March against the Biden administration.

The lawsuit focuses on memos issued Jan. 20 and Feb. 18 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about immigration enforcement, with Moody contending that the directives violate federal immigration laws and what is known as the Administrative Procedure Act.

But Honeywell ruled that the memos were “interim policies” that were not final actions by the federal agencies and, as a result, were not subject to judicial review. She also wrote that the memos prioritize immigration-enforcement decisions, such as focusing on cases involving national security, border security and public safety.

“The guidelines are just that; they are not statutes and do not have the status of law as they constitute a prioritization and not a prohibition of enforcement,” Honeywell, a judge in the federal Middle District of Florida, wrote. “The policies do not change anyone’s legal status nor do they prohibit the enforcement of any law or detention of any noncitizen. The prioritization scheme does not necessarily have a direct day-to-day impact on Florida, although certainly an indirect impact can be claimed.”

Moody responded Wednesday by filing a notice of appeal at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. As is common, the notice did not detail arguments Florida will make at the Atlanta-based appeals court.

In the lawsuit, the Republican attorney general contends that the Biden administration’s directives threaten public safety in the state.

“The Biden administration’s actions will allow criminal aliens to be released into and move freely in the state of Florida, and their resulting crime will cost the state millions of dollars on law enforcement, incarceration, and crime victim’s assistance,” the lawsuit, filed in Tampa, said. “It will also cause unquantifiable harm to Florida’s citizenry and will force the state to expend its own law enforcement resources to pick up the slack.”

But in arguing against a preliminary injunction, U.S. Department of Justice attorneys pointed to a need to set immigration-enforcement priorities.

“The Department of Homeland Security, like all executive agencies, must accomplish its mission while operating with finite resources,” Justice Department attorneys wrote in a court filing. “In fulfilling its charge to enforce U.S. immigration laws, it cannot arrest, detain, and remove all noncitizens unlawfully present in the United States. Thus, during every presidential administration, DHS invariably has had to make decisions over where it will dedicate its limited resources in order to further its objectives of national security, border security, and public safety.”

The Jan. 20 memo from the Department of Homeland Security, in part, outlined that the agency was undertaking a review of policies and practices and said it was setting a 100-day “pause on certain removals to enable focusing the department’s resources where they are most needed.”

After a federal judge in Texas blocked the 100-day pause, Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued the Feb. 18 memo, which made revisions to the Jan. 20 directive and detailed “interim priorities” for enforcement actions. That included focusing on immigrants who pose national-security threats, have been convicted of aggravated felonies, have been convicted of gang-related activity or have been apprehended at the border since Nov. 1.

But Moody’s lawsuit argued that, as a result of the memos, Immigration and Customs Enforcement “is refusing to take custody of scores of criminal aliens across the state --- resulting in their release into Florida.” Also, the lawsuit said the directives could lead to Immigration and Custom Enforcement canceling detainers that are used to hold undocumented immigrants in county jails.

While Honeywell’s ruling Tuesday was based on her conclusion that the interim policies were not final actions, she also wrote that she agreed with the federal government that the “memoranda reflect discretionary agency decisions related to the prioritization of immigration enforcement cases, which are presumptively not subject to judicial review.”

“The ordering of priorities is not a refusal to act, but rather is a specific choice to act as it relates to certain matters over others,” Honeywell wrote. “Here, Florida simply disagrees with the choices made by the Biden Administration as to the priorities.”

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.