operations in so-called sanctuary cities, making hundreds of arrests.

Out of fear they might be apprehended, many unauthorized immigrants during that period refrained from spending time outdoors with their families and restricted their outings to necessary trips to buy groceries and go to work.

The Obama administration deported millions of people, but it did not conduct major work-site raids, and most people removed were recent border crossers. It also prioritized criminals for deportation.

The lawsuit that led to Friday’s ruling was filed by Texas and Louisiana, which argued that their states faced strains on services, such as health care, when required to provide them for large numbers of undocumented immigrants. They also claimed there was a heightened risk of crime to their communities when the government did not remove people who were in the country illegally, though studies have shown that undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than other residents.

In the lower court decision, Judge Drew B. Tipton, a Trump appointee, concluded that the homeland security secretary’s decision to adopt priorities was “arbitrary and capricious” and that federal law required a series of procedures before such a policy change, including a public comment period.

He also ruled that the policy violated immigration law because it “ties the hands” of agents in the field and “changes the standard” for whom they can detain and when.

The judge had stayed his ruling to allow the government to pursue an emergency appeal. But the stay expired on Friday, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had not yet issued a ruling, leaving Judge Tipton’s order to take effect.

Immigrant advocates who supported the policy said that immigration agencies have long received guidance from the White House. They said that the Supreme Court, which is expected to be asked to rule on the current case, had previously ruled that the executive branch had discretion over immigration matters, including the removal process.

Rebekah Wolf, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, said the court ruling “could force the administration’s hand into indiscriminate mass enforcement.”

Some of those who have advocated a harder line on immigration applauded the lower court’s decision, arguing that immigration laws should be uniformly enforced.

They said agents could not be expected to make value judgments about whether an undocumented immigrant should be allowed to remain in the United States. Anyone with a good argument against deportation could make the case before an immigration judge, said Andrew Arthur, a resident fellow on law and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors restricting all immigration.

“Congress doesn’t allow immigration officers, nor can it expect them, to assess whether these are good fathers, coach Little League or are ushers in their local church,” he said. “ICE officers don’t have a crystal ball or magical score sheet to know everything going on in a person’s life.”

Most of the millions of unauthorized immigrants have lived in the country for at least a decade, often with U.S.-born children and deep ties to their communities. About two-thirds of undocumented adults participate in the work force, according to the Pew Research Center.

“The ruling will lead to more fear and uncertainty among people who have lived in our communities for years and decades,” said Sirine Shebaya, executive director of the National Immigration Project.

Government lawyers argued that the policy was a reasonable use of discretion that made sense given the limited resources at the Homeland Security Department.

Even before Mr. Biden took office, large numbers of migrants were arriving at the southern border. Record numbers have crossed this year, coming from Mexico and Central America as well as Asia, Europe and Africa, where the Covid-19 pandemic caused widespread job losses.

Those released from detention to pursue asylum claims are allowed to remain in the country until they have exhausted their legal claims in court and are ordered to leave. Others have crossed the border without pursuing the legal asylum process; many of them can be deported immediately. The Biden administration policy called for immigration agents to focus on those recent arrivals, as well.

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