A federal judge in Louisiana said on Monday that he intends to rule that U.S. authorities cannot immediately proceed with plans to lift pandemic restrictions that empowered U.S. agents at the Mexico border to turn back migrants without giving them a chance to seek asylum.
U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays stated his intention after a hearing in a case brought by 21 states against the administration of President Joe Biden. The judge said both sides would confer regarding the specific terms of a temporary restraining order and would attempt to reach an agreement.
The ruling would upend a decision by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to terminate the so-called Title 42 border order by May 23. Title 42 allows U.S. authorities to rapidly expel migrants, including asylum seekers, to Mexico and other countries to avoid overcrowding in border stations that could exacerbate the spread of COVID-19.
Biden, a Democrat, has struggled to implement what he describes as a more humane and orderly system at the U.S.-Mexico border amid record numbers of migrants arrested while crossing illegally, unfavorable court rulings, and political opposition from Republicans and some in his own party.
The judge’s statement is a victory for Republicans who said ending the order would have increased illegal immigration and what they characterized as meritless asylum claims.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry praised the decision on Twitter, writing that the judge had granted the states’ request to “halt this enormous threat to our national security.” The Department of Justice declined to comment.
The CDC said in early April that Title 42 was no longer needed to fight COVID-19 due to the increased availability of vaccines, therapeutics, and other tools to counter the disease.
In the Louisiana lawsuit, a coalition of 21 states led by Arizona, Louisiana, and Missouri, all with Republican attorneys general, are seeking to stop the termination of the order put in place under former Republican President Donald Trump in early 2020 at the onset of the pandemic. Judge Summerhays is a Trump appointee.
Separately, Texas – another Republican-led state – filed a different lawsuit on April 22 that also seeks to halt the Title 42 termination.
The number of migrant arrests at the border this year is on pace to be even higher than last year’s record-setting 1.7 million. Roughly half of the migrants encountered in March were expelled under the Title 42 order, according to U.S. government figures.
Migrants quickly expelled to Mexico under Title 42 have been more likely to attempt to cross multiple times, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) statistics, driving up the arrest totals. The recidivism rate for single adult crossers under Title 42 has been “extraordinarily high,” Blas Nunez-Neto, a top DHS border official, said in a filing in the Louisiana case on Friday.
Advocates have raised concerns that migrants seeking asylum face serious dangers after being expelled to Mexico or other countries.
Biden took office in January 2021 pledging to unwind many of Trump’s restrictive immigration policies. His administration would have kept the Title 42 order in place for 16 months by the May 23 termination.