McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A federal judge in Florida has struck down the Biden administration’s controversial parole-monitoring program for asylum-seekers, drawing strong criticisms from migrant advocates who urge DHS to appeal.
U.S. District Judge Kent Wetherell of the Northern District of Florida Pensacola Division on Wednesday ruled the Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program violates U.S. immigration laws by releasing asylum-seekers rather than detaining them.
The ruling comes as the Department of Homeland Security has had a significant drop in the number of migrants it puts in ATD as of late, and at a time when Democrats are pushing for less-invasive monitoring of asylum-seekers.
“The Court finds in favor of Florida because, as detailed below, the evidence establishes that Defendants have effectively turned the Southwest Border into a meaningless line in the sand and little more than a speedbump for aliens flooding into the country by prioritizing ‘alternatives to detention’ over actual detention and by releasing more than a million aliens into the country —on ‘parole’ or pursuant to the exercise of “prosecutorial discretion” under a wholly inapplicable statute — without even initiating removal proceedings,” Wetherell wrote in the 109-page ruling.
The case was brought by Florida’s Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody in September 2021. She argued that GPS ankle monitoring, telephonic reporting, and SmartLINK phone app monitoring of migrants who were put in the ATD program by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is illegal.
Wetherell, who was appointed by former Republican President Donald Trump, agreed. And he even said “evidence further establishes that Florida is harmed by the challenged policies because well over 100,000 aliens have been released into Florida under the policies and the state has incurred substantial costs in providing public services to aliens, including those who should have been detained.”
However, the court also acknowledged it only has the authority to vacate the parole and ATD policy and federal administrative law shields the policy from judicial review “because the overarching ‘nondetention policy’ is not discrete ‘agency action’ that is subject to judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).”
Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the nation’s larges and oldest Hispanic civil rights group, on Wednesday told Border Report he thought the ruling was “ridiculous and absurd.”
“Anybody who has been on the border or lived on the border knows that it is one of the most heavily militarized areas in the Americas, and you have Border Patrol agents, you got law enforcement. In Texas, you have highway patrol officers and National Guard troops. And the vast majority of immigrants that come to this country are still being deported.”
Wetherell set a seven-day stay to allow the Department of Homeland Security time to appear to the 11th Circuit Court or potentially up to the Supreme Court.
“So no change for at least a week,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy council for the American Immigration Council, told Border Report on Wednesday afternoon.
Reichlin-Melnick said a “block of parole and ATD isn’t a block on releases. This would require CBP to do full Notices to Appear, instead.”
Melnick tweeted: “Immediate thoughts: could lead to very dangerous overcrowding at the border.”
Garcia says he hopes the Biden administration will appeal the decision.
“There is a terrible humanitarian crisis on the border. We don’t want to see women and children in cages like we saw in the past, in overcrowded detention centers that were not made to hold families or to hold children. And that’s, to me, that is a horrible alternative to allowing parole with ankle bracelets, or allowing them to be with family and friends until they have their court hearing,” Garcia said.
On Wednesday, Garcia said he had a 30-minute private meeting to discuss immigration policies with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in Washington, D.C., and Garcia said his group talked about the need for fewer detention of migrants.
The New York Times reported this week that the Biden administration was planning to resume family detentions.
“The use of ankle monitors, community management and tracking, and ICE check-ins has allowed the United States to focus on offering due process and basic humanity to migrants. This ruling forces the Biden administration to do the impossible: Detain every single person who enters the United States. This is not the plain reading of the law and no other president, including Trump, has ever attempted such a policy, and for good reason. Not only is this inhumane and impractical, it is wasteful,” Priscilla Orta, a supervising attorney with the nonprofit Lawyers for Good Government, told Border Report Wednesday afternoon.
Orta said that over 70% of asylum-seekers who are currently detained are detained in for-profit private facilities, according to Freedom for Immigrants.
“Under this ruling, no one wins: migrants are detained and unable to fight their claims without familial support and taxpayers are supporting large corporations for no reason. I hope the administration appeals this ruling,” she said.
“Repeated interventions from federal courts are yet another sign that Republicans and Democrats in Congress must immediately work together to enact safe, orderly and humane processes at the U.S.-Mexico border and within our immigration system,” Jennie Murray, president and CEO of the National Immigration Forum, said in a statement.
The ATD program lately has experienced a sudden drop in the number of asylum-seekers put in it, according to recent data by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University.
TRAC reported that numbers fell 19% from December to mid-February.
Also notable is an increase in “no technology” releases, which is a category not previously seen.
Border Report has reached out to DHS for comment on the ATD program and this story will be updated if information is received.