A federal judge on Friday blocked the Biden administration’s move to lift Title 42, a Trump-era policy used to expel more than one million migrants at the southern border.
The pandemic-related health order, which was implemented in March 2020 to control the spread of Covid, was set to expire on Monday. The measure gave the U.S. the authority to immediately expel asylum seekers without a legal process, and Friday’s ruling means an even longer waiting time for migrants seeking refuge in the United States.
Louisiana U.S. District Judge Robert R. Summerhays, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, ruled that the restrictions must stay in place until a lawsuit by 24 states, led by Arizona, Louisiana and Missouri, is resolved in the courts. In the April 3 lawsuit, filed after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced plans to lift the public health order, the states argued the policy needed to remain to avoid “wave of illegal migration and drug trafficking.”
The Department of Justice announced Friday that it would appeal Summerhays’ decision, though it’s unlikely the restrictions will be lifted by Monday as planned. The administration will comply with the court’s order while the appeal is processed, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
“As the appeal proceeds, the Department of Homeland Security will continue planning for the eventual lifting of Title 42 in light of CDC’s public health judgment, at which point anyone who attempts to enter the country unlawfully will be subject to Title 8 Expedited Removal proceedings, if they do not have grounds to remain in the United States,” Jean-Pierre said.
Title 42 has been at the center of debate among GOP-led states and the Biden administration in recent weeks. The decision by the Louisiana judge provides a reprieve to the Biden administration, which has been under mounting pressure from Republicans and even members of its own party to keep the policy in place, as swing state Democrats worry the order’s end could fuel Republican talking points about the border crisis — posing more challenges during a midterm year.
“The court made the right decision to keep Title 42 in place. Ending Title 42 would be a complete disaster for a nation already suffering from the Biden Border Crisis,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chair of the Senate Republican Conference, said in a statement. “We have a humanitarian, public health, and national security emergency happening at our southern border. Our border patrol agents are overwhelmed by a stampede of illegal immigrants crossing the border every day. The President was warned over and over not to end Title 42. He ignored those warnings.”
Biden ran on revamping the immigration system and putting an end to Trump-era deportation policies, such as Title 42. He kept the policy in place after taking office, citing a raging pandemic.
After the CDC announced its intent to lift the restrictions last month, a growing chorus of bipartisan lawmakers accused the administration of not having a plan in place to deal with a surge at the border once the policy expires. Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona, one of the Democrats who has hammered the White House for not having a post-Title 42 game plan, said Friday that “Arizonans have paid the price for Washington’s failure to plan ahead and secure the border.”
“Today’s decision does not change the fact that there is a crisis at the border and there must be a detailed plan that can be implemented before Title 42 is lifted. Arizonans deserve a secure, orderly, and humane border response and I will continue to hold the administration accountable to that,” Kelly said in a statement.
Summerhays’ ruling, while expected, was a blow for immigration advocates and some Democrats, who have ramped up pressure on the administration to abandon the policy in recent months, as Covid cases plummeted across the U.S. Advocates and lawmakers have expressed concern that Title 42 was being used not as a public health measure, but as a means for controlling the influx at the border.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus called the ruling “outrageous” and “ridiculous” and said lawmakers must pass immigration reform, as Biden has called for.
“Today’s federal court ruling on Title 42 is outrageous, ridiculous, and erodes our asylum system. Title 42 is a public health emergency policy that can be initiated and ended by an administration. It is not a way to manage the border. Furthermore, Title 42 denies asylum seekers their legal rights under American law to due process in the U.S. and goes counter to international humanitarian norms and values,” Chair Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) said in a statement.
But another court order puts some limits on Summerhays’ ruling, said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and lead attorney in the Title 42 lawsuits in Washington, D.C.
On March 4, a three-judge panel in the D.C. Circuit Court unanimously ruled that the CDC could use Title 42 to expel migrant families — but not back to danger without giving them the chance to apply for protection against persecution and torture. Even though the Louisiana court has now stopped Title 42 from lifting on Monday, Gelernt said, the D.C. Circuit Court’s order will prevent it from being used to expel migrant families to persecution or to torture.
Krista Mahr and Marianne Levine contributed to this report.