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Immigration parole policy — and its affect on Arizonans — debated in court

What started as a fight over the Biden administration's policy of not requiring vaccines for migrants despite a federal vaccine mandate for employees has morphed into a war over released immigrants.

PHOENIX (CN) — A federal judge heard arguments Thursday over whether to toss a lawsuit by the Arizona attorney general that started over a mandate of Covid-19 vaccinations for federal employees and has expanded into a larger critique of the Biden administration’s immigration policies.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich sued the Biden administration in September 2021 over the policies, claiming it gave more bodily autonomy to migrants released via parole than U.S. citizens.

U.S. District Judge Michael Liburdi issued a preliminary injunction in January against President Joe Biden’s executive order mandating the Covid-19 vaccination for companies and employers that do business with the federal government. Liburdi made that injunction permanent in February.

The federal government now seeks to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming the state lacks standing to ask the court to supervise the discretion and decisions of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security in deciding when to detain or release migrants at the Arizona-Mexico border.

James Rogers of the Arizona Attorney General's Office told Liburdi in court Thursday that a dramatic increase in released migrants confirms the state has a plausible case for judicial review of the federal government's policy on paroling. Arizona claims the policy affects the finances and health of its citizens.

“The numbers tell the tale, dozens of parole issuances have changed it to tens of thousands of parole issuances, just on a monthly basis,” Rogers said. “Clearly, there's been a policy change.”

According to a response filed by the state in February, Border Patrol released over 51,000 migrants in December 2021 compared to 17 at the end of President Donald Trump’s term.

Liburdi seemed to entertain the state's argument but noted a lack of statistical evidence submitted to the court to show the policy’s impact on the state financially.

“Is it the state's obligation to shore up its standing arguments with data?” Liburdi asked.

Rogers conceded and said he would file that information with the court.

“We can file today, that data,” he said. “We have a declaration from the Yuma Regional Medical Center, which discusses the increased costs since the Biden administration changed immigration policies to allow more [migrants] in. And, we also have a declaration from the southern county sheriffs describing the costs involved in pursuing and the increased cost they've incurred because of that.”

Elissa Fudim, an attorney for the Department of Justice, said the state's arguments don't logically make sense.

“With regard to the notion that the numbers tell the tale. It’s like saying that eating ice cream caused people to drown because ice cream sales increased,” she said.

According to Fudim, the court lacks jurisdiction to review the executive branch's policy decisions.

But Rogers argued emails illustrate a parole policy for different migrant demographics.

“The state produced emails that have been linked to a journalist that show problematic grants of parole to Cubans, Venezuelans, Nicaraguan and Columbians,” he said. “But even if there was no policy at all, that does not preclude a finding.”

Fudim said the emails refer to a different or irrelevant policy.

“Their email contains a [different] policy, which again, hasn't been challenged here,” she said.

The state has until Aug. 31 to submit data for consideration. Liburdi said he would rule sometime after.

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