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Judge rules Covid asylum restrictions must proceed on border

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Migrants queue outside the office of the National Migration Institute (INM) as they wait for a QR code to register their migratory situation and travel throughout the country, in Tapachula, Mexico, February 2, 2022.

Jose Torres | Reuters

Pandemic-related restrictions on migrants looking for asylum on the southern border must proceed, a judge ruled Friday in an order blocking the Biden administration’s plan to lift them early next week.

The ruling is just the newest instance of a court derailing the president’s proposed immigration policies along the U.S. border with Mexico.

While the administration can appeal, the ruling sharply increases the chances that restrictions won’t end as planned on Monday. A delay could be a blow to advocates who say rights to hunt asylum are being trampled, and a relief to some Democrats who fear that a widely anticipated increase in illegal crossings would put them on the defensive in an already difficult midterm election 12 months.

Migrants have been expelled greater than 1.9 million times since March 2020 under Title 42, a public health provision that denies them a probability to request asylum under U.S. law and international treaty on grounds of stopping the spread of Covid-19.

U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays in Lafayette, Louisiana, ordered that the restrictions stay in place while a lawsuit led by Arizona and Louisiana — and now joined by 22 other states — plays out in court.

The states argued that the administration did not adequately consider the consequences that lifting the restrictions would have on public health and law enforcement. Drew Ensign, an attorney for the state of Arizona, argued at a hearing that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not follow administrative procedures requiring public notice and time to assemble public comment.

Jean Lin, a Justice Department attorney, told the judge that the CDC was empowered to lift an emergency health restriction it felt was not needed. She said the order was a matter of health policy, not immigration.

Summerhays, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, had already ruled in favor of the states by halting efforts to wind down use of the pandemic-era rule. He said last month that a phaseout would saddle states with “unrecoverable costs on healthcare, law enforcement, detention, education, and other services.”

Title 42 is the second major Trump-era policy to discourage asylum on the Mexican border that was jettisoned by President Joe Biden, only to be revived by a Trump-appointed judge.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on whether to permit the administration to force asylum-seekers to attend in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court. That case, difficult a policy generally known as “Remain in Mexico,” originated in Amarillo, Texas. It was reinstated in December on the judge’s order and stays in effect while the litigation plays out.

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