By Daniel Wiessner
(Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday said the Biden administration could continue to limit who can be arrested by U.S. immigration agents pending the outcome of its appeal of a federal judge's ruling that blocked a memo outlining new enforcement priorities.
The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the judge in Texas in an August decision https://www.reuters.com/legal/litigation/us-judge-blocks-bidens-limits-immigrant-arrests-deportation-2021-08-19 was likely wrong that federal law limits the discretion immigration authorities have to decide who should be arrested and placed into deportation proceedings.
The appeals court issued a stay blocking the judge's decision from taking effect while the government's appeal is pending.
February guidance from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) instructs agents to focus enforcement efforts on immigrants deemed national security or public safety threats and those who entered the United States after Nov. 1, 2020.
Agents must seek pre-approval from a senior manager if they want to arrest someone who does not fall into one of those categories.
The guidance was issued shortly after Democratic President Joe Biden succeeded Republican President Donald Trump, whose signature policies included a tough approach to legal and illegal immigration.
It is being challenged by the Republican attorney generals of Texas and Louisiana, who say it has led to dozens of convicted criminals being released into their communities and is placing burdens on local law enforcement and social service programs.
ICE and the offices of the state attorney generals did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In blocking the February guidance, U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton in Corpus Christi, Texas, ruled that it violated a federal law requiring that the government "shall detain" people who commit certain crimes or are otherwise deemed eligible for deportation.
But the 5th Circuit on Wednesday said that law only applied to individuals who are already the subject of a detention order or have been ordered deported, and not to the initial decision of who should face enforcement action in the first place.
(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in New Yorkd; editing by Jonathan Oatis)