Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sues Biden administration over asylum plan

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, center, at a press conference with Texas Solicitor General Judd Stone II, center right, and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, center left, at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on April 26, the day the court heard oral arguments on the Trump-era remain in Mexico policy that requires asylum seekers to stay in Mexico as they await hearings in U.S. immigration court. (Eric Lee For The Texas Tribune, Eric Lee For The Texas Tribune)

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed his 11th immigration-related lawsuit against the Biden administration Thursday, asking a judge to block a plan to let asylum officers, rather than immigration judges, decide whether to grant some migrants’ asylum claims at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The new plan, scheduled to take effect May 31, “upends the entire adjudicatory system to the benefit of aliens,” the lawsuit says.

Earlier this year, the Biden administration finalized its plan to overhaul the process for migrants seeking asylum. The plan is supposed to reduce the average wait time for asylum-seekers to receive a decision in their case from five years to six months. As of March, immigration judges had nearly 1.7 million pending cases — the largest backlog in the country’s history, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

Under the new process, asylum-seekers could be released into the country pending the outcome of their cases instead of being held in custody. If a migrant apprehended at the border claims they could be persecuted or tortured if they return to their home country, the asylum officer would decide if they have a credible claim. If the officer declines an asylum claim, migrants could appeal to an immigration judge.

“The current system for handling asylum claims at our borders has long needed repair,” Alejandro Mayorkas, the Department of Homeland Security secretary, said in a statement in March when the plan was finalized. “Through this rule, we are building a more functional and sensible asylum system to ensure that individuals who are eligible will receive protection more swiftly, while those who are not eligible will be rapidly removed.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Amarillo overseen by Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, also argues that the new plan violates the Constitution’s appointments clause because asylum officers are members of the general civil services and are not appointed like judges are.

“I protested the proposed version of these rules back in October 2021, and, unsurprisingly, Biden found a way to make it worse, so I’m suing,” Paxton said in a written statement.

Texas has filed nearly two dozen lawsuits in Texas-based federal courts, most of them led by Paxton, against the Biden administration over everything from federal mask mandates to the administration’s decision to halt the long-disputed Keystone XL pipeline. Trump-appointed judges have heard 16 of the cases and ruled in favor of Texas in seven. The other nine are pending as of March 15.

The state’s favorite targets have been Biden’s immigration policies, which have sparked seven of the 20 lawsuits in Texas courts. Paxton’s office has also sued the administration in Washington, D.C., federal courts and joined lawsuits led by attorneys general from other states.

So far, Paxton has been successful in stopping or altering Biden’s immigration policies in four of those cases, including one of the most consequential ones: forcing the Biden administration to reverse course and resume the Migrant Protection Protocols, a Trump-era policy also known as “remain in Mexico” that makes asylum-seekers wait in Mexico as their legal cases go through U.S. immigration courts. Kacsmaryk ruled in favor of Texas in that case.

Help mission-driven journalism flourish in Texas. The Texas Tribune relies on reader support to continue delivering news that informs Texans and engages with them. Donate now to join as a Texas Tribune member. Plus, give monthly or yearly now through May 5 and you’ll help unlock a $10K match. Give and double your impact today.