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A federal judge blocked the Biden administration from lifting pandemic border restrictions known as Title 42 next week.
That public health order, which was due to end Monday, allows immigration authorities to quickly expel migrants at the border without allowing them to seek asylum.
The ruling is a victory for Republican-led states that are pushing to extend the restrictions.
More than 20 states signed on to a lawsuit filed by Arizona, Missouri and Louisiana. They argued that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not follow proper procedures to end Title 42 and should have considered the impact on state health care systems and other costs.
US District Judge Robert Summerhays in Louisiana granted the preliminary injunction those states had been seeking, saying they were likely to prevail over his claim.
“Today’s ruling is a significant victory, as Title 42 is one of the few immigration policies that actually works,” Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in a statement.
The CDC first authorized Title 42 restrictions in March 2020, saying they were necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19. In April of this year, the CDC said those restrictions were no longer necessary to protect public health and moved to end the policy on May 23.
The preliminary order was not unexpected. Judge Summerhays had previously granted a temporary restraining order in the case and indicated that he sympathized with the states’ arguments.
Still, immigrant advocates were disappointed.
“Title 42 and this lawsuit were never about public health, but rather a transparent attempt to end asylum,” said Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been questioning the legality of the public health order in a separate case.
“If the administration doesn’t immediately seek to undo the injunction, it will say a lot about whether the White House really wants Title 42 to end,” Gelernt said.
The injunction leaves tens of thousands of migrants in limbo in cities and towns south of the US-Mexico border.
“Title 42 has had a catastrophic effect on asylum seekers,” said Sameera Hafiz, policy director for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
“Border officials have the ability to employ measures recommended by public health experts to keep asylum seekers safe as they seek refuge in the US,” he said in a statement.
The Department of Homeland Security has been preparing for a possible influx of immigrants when Title 42 ends. Earlier this week, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas met with border patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley. and pledged to increase enforcement of normal American immigration laws when Title 42 is lifted.
“We will be increasing the number of criminal proceedings to meet the challenge,” Mayorkas said during a press conference on Tuesday.
Since it was implemented by the Trump administration, Title 42 has drastically limited the number of migrants who can apply for asylum at the southern border. But migrants who are swiftly removed under the policy are also protected from criminal prosecution. Mayorkas and other administration officials argue that restoring those consequences will help deter migrants from repeatedly crossing and reduce the number of people at the border.
The Biden administration has faced bipartisan criticism for moving to end Title 42 at a time when border apprehensions are near record levels.
Immigration authorities encountered immigrants at the southern border more than 234,000 times in April, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That’s one of the highest totals ever recorded, even though tens of thousands of migrants crossed several times and were counted more than once in the total.
The April total also includes more than 20,000 Ukrainians fleeing the war in their country, who crossed into the United States at the southern border before the launch of a new program aimed at bringing Ukrainians directly from Europe.
The number of apprehensions made by the Border Patrol last month actually decreased slightly compared to March, to just over 200,000. But that’s still one of the largest monthly totals on record.