A federal judge in Florida said Monday that the Biden administration’s reported release of about 2,500 migrants into the U.S. on Friday at the southern border may have violated a temporary restraining order he issued.
U.S. District Court Judge T. Kent Wetherell ordered federal government lawyers to explain why Department of Homeland Security officials should not be held in contempt of court over the releases, which allegedly took place after the Pensacola-based judge issued a restraining order Thursday night in fast-moving litigation filed by the State of Florida.
“The Court takes allegations of noncompliance with its orders very seriously, irrespective of the source of the allegations,” wrote Wetherell, an appointee of former President Donald Trump.
In a two-page order Monday morning, Wetherell gave the Justice Department until 3 p.m. Eastern Time to “show cause” against a possible contempt finding.
Wetherell issued an order on Thursday barring the Biden administration from enforcing a key aspect of the policies it planned to put into effect in the aftermath of the end of Title 42, the health-related limits on asylum-seekers imposed after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
The policy Wetherell blocked last week set rules for parole of migrants into the U.S., especially those not yet put into formal deportation proceedings or given immigration court dates.
In March, also acting on a lawsuit brought by the State of Florida, Wetherell issued a similar order blocking an “Alternatives to Detention” plan the Biden administration rolled out to provide remote supervision for asylum-seekers and others in deportation proceedings that can often stretch out for years.
Wetherell and the federal government have sparred repeatedly in the cases. Last week, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the judge’s orders amounted to “sabotage” of the Biden administration’s border policies.
In an order Wetherell issued Saturday denying a stay of his March directive, the judge called that request “borderline frivolous” and he complained about what he called the Justice Department’s “threat” to seek emergency relief from a federal appeals court today if he did not act by today.
“Defendants do not get to dictate when the Court rules. The Court understands that it needs to rule quickly (and it will do so, as it has done with every other filing in these cases), but these cases are not death penalty cases that require 24/7 attention or immediate rulings,” the judge wrote, indicating that he did not plan to spend Mother’s Day Sunday dealing with the issue.
The Justice Department’s request for Wetherell to stay his Thursday order remains pending.
Asked about the latest order from the judge, a Customs and Border Patrol spokesperson pointed to this statement about Wetherell’s order last week and said a further statement is forthcoming.
“CBP will comply with the court order and is assessing next steps,” the earlier statement said.
“This is a harmful ruling that will result in unsafe overcrowding at CBP facilities and undercut our ability to efficiently process and remove migrants, and risks creating dangerous conditions for Border Patrol agents and migrants. The fact remains that when overcrowding has occurred in Border Patrol facilities, Republican and Democratic Administrations alike have used this parole authority to protect the safety and security of migrants and the workforce.”