DeSantis, Moody, ratchet up immigration clash with Biden Administration

by | Sep 28, 2021


TALLAHASSEE — Pointing to what they called a “crisis,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody launched another legal challenge Tuesday to immigration decisions by the Biden administration, while Gov. Ron DeSantis took a series of steps to address people coming into the state illegally.

Moody’s office filed a 23-page lawsuit in federal court in Pensacola, accusing the Biden administration of violating immigration laws by releasing many undocumented immigrants who cross the nation’s Southern border. The lawsuit said the “government is not free to ignore the clear commands of Congress” and alleged that some undocumented immigrants coming to Florida could be gang members, drug traffickers and other criminals.

“The Biden administration’s illegal border policies cause Florida harm,” the lawsuit said. “Many of the aliens illegally released by the Biden administration are arriving or will arrive in Florida, harming the state’s quasi-sovereign interests and forcing it to incur millions of dollars in expenses.”

The lawsuit was filed four days after a federal appeals court heard arguments in a lawsuit that Moody filed in March challenging immigration moves by the Biden administration. A U.S. district judge in May rejected a request by Moody for a preliminary injunction in the case, which centers on two memos that federal agencies issued early this year about immigration enforcement.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday appeared skeptical of the state’s arguments, saying authorities have discretion in enforcing laws — and citing a shortage of beds where immigrants could be detained before potential deportation. The panel has not issued a ruling.

Tuesday’s lawsuit primarily alleges that the Biden administration has violated a law known as the Administrative Procedure Act, in part by overstepping its legal authority when deciding not to detain undocumented immigrants. It also alleges that the federal government’s actions violate the law because they are “arbitrary and capricious.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday afternoon she had not seen the lawsuit, while adding the Biden administration is open to “a constructive conversation” with Republicans on immigration.

Psaki said deterrents remain to discourage migration to the U.S. and that the nation continues to follow a Trump-era process that allows blocking immigrants during certain public-health emergencies. The Trump administration cited the COVID-19 pandemic to keep migrants trying to cross the border from applying for asylum.

Psaki said people who arrive at the border and seek asylum face conditions that include remaining at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities, being secured with ankle bracelets or being required to give biometric data.

“It’s not an easy process or an easy system. And absolutely nothing is guaranteed,” Psaki said. “But, again, our system is broken. It needs to be fixed. That’s what we’d love to work with Republicans on.”

Moody and DeSantis have harshly criticized the Biden administration’s immigration policies for months, with DeSantis at one point sending Florida law-enforcement officers to provide help at the Texas border with Mexico.

The Republican leaders held a news conference Tuesday in Fort Myers to announce the lawsuit and DeSantis’ new steps, including appointing former U.S. Attorney Larry Keefe as a “public safety czar.” DeSantis also issued an executive order about immigration issues, with Keefe leading efforts to carry it out.

“I promise you, if there are people illegally in our state, and if they’re in violation of our law, we are going to enforce our law,” said Keefe, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump as U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Florida. He served as the region’s top federal prosecutor from 2019 to early this year.

The order, in part, prohibits state executive agencies from assisting the federal government in transporting undocumented immigrants to Florida; requires the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Children and Families to calculate costs of health care and other services provided to undocumented immigrants; requires the statewide prosecutor and state attorneys to provide monthly information about undocumented immigrants charged with crimes and convicted; and requires the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to determine if companies are complying with requirements about verifying employment eligibility of new workers.

Among other things, the order directs the FDLE to gather information about the numbers and identities of undocumented immigrants transported from the border to Florida since January and calls on law enforcement to detain vehicles, such as aircraft and buses, suspected of being used to transport undocumented immigrants, if there is suspicion of criminal activity like human trafficking or drug trafficking.

“This is absolutely a crisis,” DeSantis said. “It’s a crisis of the (Biden) administration’s own making. And yes, this is their primary responsibility, the federal government, but the states, we’re the ones that are affected by this. And we have to be able to fight back.”

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