US judge rejects Republican challenge to Biden migrant sponsorship program

FILE PHOTO: U.S. immigration authorities deport migrants from Texas to Colombia

By Daniel Wiessner and Ted Hesson

(Reuters) -A federal judge in Texas on Friday rejected a challenge by Republican-led states to a Biden administration program that allows hundreds of thousands of migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to apply for emergency entry into the United States.

U.S. District Court Judge Drew Tipton in Victoria, Texas, said the 21 states, led by Texas, lacked standing to pursue the 2023 lawsuit because they could not show that the "parole" program, which allows up to 30,000 people per month to enter the U.S., caused them any injury.

Some 234,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans had entered the U.S. through the program as of November, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) statistics. To qualify, migrants must have a U.S. sponsor and enter the country by air.

Tipton in his ruling noted that the number of people illegally entering the U.S. from the four countries since the program was implemented had dramatically decreased by as much as 44%. The judge did not address the merits of the lawsuit, which claims that DHS lacked the authority to adopt the program.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas praised the ruling, calling the parole program "a key element of our efforts to address the unprecedented level of migration throughout our hemisphere."

The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, did not respond to a request for comment regarding the decision.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat seeking another term in the Nov. 5 presidential election, has sought to expand legal pathways to the U.S. to discourage would-be migrants from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

Republicans, including the party's candidate to face off against Biden, former President Donald Trump, have said the parole programs go beyond the scope of what is allowable by law.

Record numbers of migrants have been caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally during Biden's presidency. Republicans say Biden should have kept Trump's more restrictive policies while Biden has argued that Republicans have refused to provide adequate border funding and pass legislation that would toughen enforcement.

The states argued in their lawsuit that the U.S. government's authority to use parole is "exceptionally limited" and can only be applied on a case-by-case basis. They claimed they faced irreparable harm because arriving migrants increase the cost of public services, including policing and emergency medical care.

Tipton, a Trump appointee, ruled that the program was having the opposite effect.

"The court has before it a case in which Plaintiffs claim that they have been injured by a program that has actually lowered their out-of-pocket costs," he wrote.

In a separate case on Friday, Tipton ordered the Biden administration to halt its efforts to redirect $1.4 billon in Trump-era border wall construction funds to other projects.

Tipton sided with Texas and Missouri in the case, but paused the ruling for a week to allow for an appeal.

Paxton, the Texas attorney general, said in a statement the ruling would stop Biden's attempt to "illegally defund the border wall."

The Biden administration said in October it would proceed with some border wall construction using Trump-era funds despite a 2021 Biden proclamation pledging that "no more American taxpayer dollars" would be used for such projects.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York and Ted Hesson in Washington, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and William Mallard)