A health rule imposed at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic that has blocked most asylum seekers at the US border with Mexico must stay in place, a judge ruled Friday.
Title 42, the colloquial name for an order that can effectively prevent anyone without a visa from entering the United States, even to claim asylum, was due to expire on Monday.
President Joe Biden’s administration said the rule was no longer needed, more than two years after it was imposed by then-president Donald Trump.
But Republican governors of more than 20 states went to court to demand that it remain in place, arguing relaxing it would spur an influx of migrants — a hot-button political issue in the United States.
On Friday, federal judge Robert Summerhays issued an injunction to that effect.
“The Plaintiff States contend that the Termination Order will result in a surge of border crossings, and that this surge will result in an increase in illegal immigrants residing in the states,” Summerhays’ ruling says.
“They also contend that the transition back to immigration enforcement… will result in an increase in immigration ‘parolees’ in the Plaintiff States.
“The court finds that the plaintiff states have satisfied each of the requirements for a preliminary injunction.”
The White House said it would abide by the ruling, but would appeal.
“The Administration disagrees with the court’s ruling, and the Department of Justice has announced that it will appeal this decision,” a statement said.
“The authority to set public health policy nationally should rest with the Centers for Disease Control, not with a single district court.”
– ‘Nonsensical decision’ –
For migration reform campaigners, Title 42 has been a failure: an immigration policy dressed up as a health policy — and not fit for either purpose.
The rule allows for the immediate, without-cause removal of any foreigner or non-resident trying to enter the country without a visa.
There is no legal process, nor any formal deportation to country of origin, and a border agent can apply a Title 42 expulsion without the lengthy interview process usually required.
Campaigners seized on Friday’s ruling as further proof that the immigration system in the United States is broken.
“Today’s unfortunate decision says that the government can suspend asylum with no notice at all, but can’t restore normal immigration law without going through a lengthy and complicated process,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, senior policy adviser for the American Council on Migration, told AFP.
“This nonsensical decision will lead to continued harm for asylum seekers and will continue to create chaos at the border.”
More than 1.8 million expulsions have been carried out under Title 42. Some are thought to be the same person expelled multiple times.
With no legal penalty for anyone expelled under the rule, many who are deported return to try again, often in ever-more dangerous circumstances.
Campaigners point to the rocketing death toll for would-be migrants — 557 people died at the border in 2021, the deadliest year since records began in 1998.
The deaths occur as a result of dehydration and starvation during desert crossings, as well as when people drown in rivers and fall while climbing the border wall.
“Seeking asylum is a legal right, and yet this bedrock of the American legal system is quickly eroding at a time of unprecedented need,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
“The (court’s) decision undermines the Biden administration’s efforts to implement what the vast majority of Americans support – a fair, humane, and orderly immigration system.
“Instead, it maintains a status quo that has been wholly ineffective in establishing a secure border. Only the coyotes profiteering off of people seeking protection have reason to celebrate this ill-reasoned ruling.”