A federal judge hears arguments on Friday over whether the Biden administration can lift pandemic-related restrictions on immigrants seeking asylum later this month.
Migrants have been expelled more than 1.8 million times since March 2020 under federal Title 42 authority, which denied migrants the chance to apply for asylum under US law and international treaty for preventing the spread of COVID-19. .
The government’s plan to end Title 42 authority was announced by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on April 1. The plan has drawn criticism from Republicans and some Democrats fearing a flood of new immigrants.
Louisiana, Arizona and Missouri quickly sued and later joined 18 other states in the legal challenge that was being heard on Friday. Texas sued independently.
US District Judge Robert Summerhays in Lafayette, Louisiana is the judge in the case. After the government acknowledged last month that it had already begun phasing out the pandemic restriction by prosecuting more migrants under immigration law rather than Title 42, Summerhays ordered the phasing out to be halted.
Appointed by President Donald Trump, Summerhays wrote last month that ending restrictions before May 23 would inflict “sunrecoverable costs on health, law enforcement, detention, education and other services” on states seeking to keep the policy in place.
He also said the administration likely did not follow federal rule-making procedures in planning for the May 23 end of the policy. Friday’s arguments are about maintaining restrictions beyond May 23 while litigation continues. It was unclear how quickly Summerhays would rule.
Separately, Congress presents another potential hurdle to ending Title 42. Several moderate Democrats have joined Republicans in expressing concern that officials are not prepared for a much-anticipated influx of migrants.
A large number of illegal crossings have encouraged some Republicans to try to make border and immigration an election year issue. U.S. authorities stopped immigrants more than 221,000 times at the Mexican border in March, a 22-year record, though many have repeatedly crossed over because Title 42 carries no legal or criminal consequences.
Title 42 authority was applied unevenly across nationalities. Mexico has agreed to take back migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico – and a limited number from Cuba and Nicaragua. High costs, strained diplomatic relations and other considerations have made it more difficult to remove migrants from other countries, who must be taken home.
Title 42 is one of the two main surviving policies of the Trump era to prevent asylum at the border. Last month, the Supreme Court heard arguments about allowing the US to force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for US immigration court hearings.