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Both sides spar over immigration law injunction

In World
June 08, 2024

Attorneys for the state squared off this week with lawyers for immigrants and an advocacy group after an unusual twist in a challenge to a Florida law aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration.

The lawsuit, filed in July by The Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc. and individual plaintiffs, centers on part of a 2023 law that threatens felony charges for people who transport into Florida an immigrant who “entered the United States in violation of law and has not been inspected by the federal government since his or her unlawful entry.”

Siding with the plaintiffs on May 22, U.S. District Judge Roy Altman issued an injunction prohibiting enforcement of that part of the law statewide. But the following day, the judge issued an order appearing to second-guess his decision and asked for “further briefing on the proper scope of the injunction.”

Altman’s May 23 order pointed to “national conversation taking place in both the legal academy and the judiciary concerning the propriety of courts using universal injunctions as a matter of preliminary relief.”

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The judge gave lawyers for the plaintiffs and the state until Thursday to file briefs on whether the injunction should apply statewide; throughout the federal Southern District of Florida, where the case was filed; to plaintiffs who have established legal standing; or to all plaintiffs who remain in the case.

In a brief filed Thursday, lawyers for the plaintiffs urged Altman to keep his initial decision to block the law throughout Florida.

“Statewide relief is necessary to provide complete relief to the plaintiffs here, because there is no viable way to structure and enforce a more limited injunction that would fully protect the nearly 12,000 members of plaintiff Farmworker Association of Florida,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers argued. “While there has been recent debate about the propriety of systemwide injunctions, every court to address the issue has agreed that they are appropriate when necessary to redress the plaintiffs’ harms.”

The “practical need” for a statewide injunction, they added, is “bolstered by the legal context” of the lawsuit. The context includes an argument by the plaintiffs that the Florida law is “preempted” by federal immigration laws.

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“In cases like these, statewide injunctions advance the basic purpose of preemption doctrine, which is to protect Congress’ prerogatives and ensure the smooth functioning of the federal immigration scheme. A narrower injunction would fail to do that,” Paul Chavez, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, wrote in the 19-page brief. Plaintiffs also are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Florida, Americans for Immigrant Justice, the American Immigration Council, and the ACLU Immigration Rights’ Project.

Attorneys for the state, however, argued that “no universal injunction is warranted here.”

“At best, only the individual plaintiffs have standing and a cause of action. The injunction therefore should not apply beyond them, whether nationwide, statewide, or even district-wide,” lawyers in Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office wrote in a 16-page brief.

Also, the state’s lawyers argued that the farmworker association lacked “a valid cause of action” under the federal Immigration and Naturalization Act and is not entitled to relief.

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Courts “have been skeptical” of statewide and nationwide injunctions, the state’s brief said, pointing to recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court that blocked statewide injunctions.

But the plaintiffs’ lawyers argued that courts have narrowed injunctions in cases involving “a small number of individuals, not an organization with thousands of members facing arrest and prosecution from hundreds of law enforcement agencies throughout the state.”

The state also on Thursday filed a “motion for reconsideration” that, in part, said Altman overlooked the state’s argument that the plaintiffs “lack a cause of action” to bring the preemption claim.

The 2023 law is among a number of steps DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature have taken in recent years to target undocumented immigrants.

In issuing the May 22 preliminary injunction, Altman cited previous court rulings that he said consistently established immigration is a matter governed by federal — not state — law.

“By making it a felony to transport into Florida someone who ‘has not been inspected by the federal government since his or her unlawful entry,’ Section 10 (the disputed section of the law) extends beyond the state’s authority to make arrests for violations of federal immigration law and, in so doing, intrudes into territory that’s preempted,” Altman, who was appointed as a federal judge in 2018 by former President Donald Trump, wrote.

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