USA: COVID limits on asylum are in the hands of a judge

A lawyer representing 21 U.S. states asked a federal judge on Friday to block the Joe Biden administration’s plan to lift restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic on immigrants seeking asylum, saying that decision it was taken without sufficiently weighing the impact that the measure could have on public health and police work.

Drew Ensign, an attorney for the state of Arizona, told US District Judge Robert R. Summerhays that the lawsuit filed by Arizona, Louisiana and 19 other states to block the plan was “not about the soundness of the politics” behind the plan. of the announcement to end the plan on May 23.

However, Ensign said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did not follow proper administrative procedures that require public notification and collection of comments on the decision to lift the restrictions imposed under what is often called Title 42 authority. The result, he noted, was that due consideration was not given to the likely resulting increases in border crossings and their potential effects, including pressure on state health care systems and diversion of police resources on the border, from the fight against drug trafficking to the control of illegal crossings.

The Justice Department’s Jean Lin argued that the CDC acted within its authority to lift an emergency health restriction that they felt was no longer necessary. The official said the CDC order was a matter of health policy, not immigration.

“There is no rationale for using Title 42 as a safety valve,” Lin told Summerhays.

Summerhays did not say when he will issue his ruling, but noted that time is short and told the lawyers they did not need to file post-argument documents. In addition to deciding whether to block the policy, she will also determine whether her ruling applies nationally or to specific states.

So far, Summerhays’ rulings in the case have been strongly favorable to the states challenging the government’s plan.

The United States has expelled migrants more than 1.8 million times since March 2020 under Title 42 authority, denying them an opportunity to apply for asylum under U.S. law and international treaties on the grounds to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

On April 1, the CDC announced Biden’s plan to end the restriction by May 23, prompting criticism from Republicans and some Democrats who fear the administration is unprepared to deal with a massive influx of migrants. provided.

Arizona, Louisiana and Missouri quickly sued, and were later joined by 18 other states in the legal challenge being heard Friday. Texas filed a lawsuit independently.

After the government admitted last month that it had already begun to gradually lift the restriction by processing more migrants under immigration law instead of Title 42, Summerhays ordered that process be suspended.

Nominated by then-President Donald Trump, Summerhays wrote last month that easing restrictions before May 23 would inflict “sunk costs in health care, policing, arrests, education and other services” on states that want to keep the policy in effect.

He also said the administration likely did not follow federal rulemaking procedures in planning to end the policy by May 23. The arguments made on Friday concerned the possibility of keeping the restrictions in place after that date while the litigation continues.

Several immigrant rights groups have asked Summerhays to at least allow Title 42 to be suspended as planned in California and New Mexico, two border states that have not challenged the administration’s decision.

On the other hand, Congress has raised another potential roadblock to ending Title 42. Several moderate Democrats have joined Republicans in voicing concern that authorities are unprepared for a huge influx of immigrants.

The sheer number of illegal border crossings has emboldened some Republicans to try to make the border and immigration the subject of debate during an election year. In March, federal authorities detained more than 221,000 immigrants at the border with Mexico, the highest number in 22 years. Many of them were repeat offenders because Title 42 carries no legal or criminal consequences.

The authority of Title 42 has been applied unevenly across nationalities. The Mexican government has agreed to receive migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico, and a limited number from Cuba and Nicaragua. High costs, strained diplomatic relations and other factors have made it difficult to expel immigrants from other countries, who must be returned by plane.

Title 42 is one of two major Trump-era policies that survive to deter asylum claims at the border.

Last month, the US Supreme Court heard arguments about allowing the government to force asylum seekers to remain in Mexico to await hearings in US immigration courts. That case originated before another Trump-appointed judge, in Amarillo, Texas.