Debate over whether epidemic asylum restrictions could end

A federal judge hears arguments on Friday whether the Biden administration can lift epidemic-related restrictions on migrants seeking asylum later this month.

Immigrants have been deported more than 1.8 million times since March 2020 under federal Title 42 powers that deny opportunities to seek asylum under U.S. law and international treaties because they prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The administration’s plan to end Title 42 authority was announced by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on April 1st. The plan has been criticized by Republicans and some Democrats, fearing a flood of new immigrants.

Louisiana, Arizona and Missouri quickly filed lawsuits and joined 18 other states on legal matters at a hearing on Friday. Texas sued independently.

United States District Judge Robert Summerhays of Lafayette, Louisiana, is the judge in this case. Summerhays ordered the phasing out after the administration last month admitted that it had begun to phase out epidemic restrictions by processing more immigrants under the immigration law instead of Title 42.

President Donald Trump-nominated Summerhays wrote last month that lifting the restrictions before May 23 would incur “irrecoverable costs for health care, law enforcement, detention, education and other services” in states trying to maintain the policy.

He also said the administration may not have followed the federal rulemaking process in planning the end of the May 23 policy. Friday’s argument is whether the restrictions will remain after May 23 while the case is pending. It was unclear how quickly the Summerhays would reign.

Separately, Congress presents another potential obstacle to ending Title 42. Several moderate Democrats joined the Republican Party and expressed concern that authorities were not prepared for the widely anticipated influx of immigrants.

Multiple illegal crossings have led some Republicans to try to make borders and immigration an election year issue. U.S. authorities registered more than 221,000 migrants at the Mexican border in March, the highest in 22 years. However, many have repeatedly crossed the border because Title 42 has no legal or criminal consequences.

Title 42 powers were applied unevenly according to nationality. Mexico has agreed to reclaim migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico, as well as limited numbers from Cuba and Nicaragua. High costs, strained diplomatic relations and other considerations have made it more difficult to eliminate immigrants who must return home from other countries.

Title 42 is one of two major Trump-era policies remaining to curb asylum at the border. Last month, the Supreme Court heard a debate over whether to allow the US to force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for a hearing in US immigration courts.

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