A federal judge is hearing arguments Friday on whether the Biden administration can lift pandemic-related restrictions on immigrants seeking asylum later this month.
Migrants have been deported more than 1.8 million times since March 2020 under the federal Title 42 authority, which denied migrants the ability to seek asylum under U.S. law and international treaty in the reason to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The administration’s plan to end the authority of Title 42 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 an influx of new migrants.
Louisiana, Arizona and Missouri quickly filed a lawsuit and were later joined by 18 other states in the legal challenge heard on Friday. Texas sued independently.
U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays, in Lafayette, Louisiana, is the judge handling the case. After the administration acknowledged last month that it had already begun phasing out the pandemic restriction by processing more migrants under the Immigration Act instead of Title 42, Summerhays ordered a halt to the phasing out.
Nominated by President Donald Trump, Summerhays wrote last month that removing restrictions before May 23 would inflict “sunk costs on health care, law enforcement, detention, education and other services” to states seeking to maintain the current policy.
He also said the administration likely did not follow federal rule-making procedures when planning for the policy to end on May 23. Friday’s arguments focus on whether to keep the restrictions in place beyond May 23 while litigation continues. It was unclear how quickly Summerhays would reign.
The public health rule known as Title 42 has been used during the pandemic to block more than 1.7 million attempts to enter the United States
Separately, Congress presents another potential hurdle at the end of Title 42. Several moderate Democrats have joined Republicans in expressing concern that authorities are unprepared for a widely expected influx of migrants.
A large number of illegal crossings has encouraged some Republicans to try to make the border and immigration an election year issue. US authorities arrested migrants more than 221,000 times at the Mexican border in March, a 22-year record, although many were repeat violators because Title 42 carries no legal or criminal consequences.
The authority of Title 42 has been 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 return migrants from other countries, who must be flown home.
Title 42 is one of two major Trump-era policies to deter border asylum. Last month, the Supreme Court heard arguments about whether to allow the United States to force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for US immigration court hearings.