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U.S. Supreme Court ruling could transform how immigration policy is challenged

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that immigrants cannot band together to challenge immigration policy in any lower federal court. But analysts say it could also change the lawsuits from states move through the courts.

The ruling focuses on a portion of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a law forged in the 1990s that blocks any court but the Supreme Court from ruling on most immigration enforcement cases, except those brought by individuals. 

Lower federal courts were still making decisions on some cases, including those that sought to show an immigration policy was illegal or unjust. Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director for the American Immigration Council, says that could change now.

"This is a potentially profound decision because it could severely restrict the ability of both immigrant rights advocates and immigrants themselves and even Republican attorneys general from blocking immigration policy issued by the government," he said. 

Arizona and other states have filed dozens of lawsuits challenging various immigration policies laid out by the Biden administration. 

Reichlin-Melnick says it’s too early to tell exactly how the ruling will impact cases already making their way through lower courts, but he expects more clarity in the coming weeks, when the Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling on the legality of the Migrant Protection Protocols, the Trump-era policy that forced tens of thousands of immigrants to await U.S. asylum hearings in Mexico.

The decision could also impact recent decisions in lower courts, like last week's decision in Texas that ruled the Biden administration's immigration enforcement guidelines illegal. Reichlin-Melnick says broader impacts could become clear soon. 

"In some ways, this is a very narrow provision stripping courts of jurisdiction over immigration enforcement decisions only, but as we've seen over the last few years, immigration enforcement is a major national topic," he said. "That is still something that is going to have a big impact nationally." 

But at its core, Reichlin-Melnick says the new ruling could set a dangerous precedent by stripping lower courts of their ability to decide on whether immigration laws are legal or not. 

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.