A judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked the Biden administration from winding down a Trump-era policy that quickly expels immigrants at the border and blocks them from accessing the US asylum system.
The temporary restraining order, which stops the administration from implementing a gradual ending of the policy known as Title 42, was issued by US District Judge Robert Summerhays, a Trump appointee. A hearing on a longer-term block on the repeal of Title 42 is set for May 13.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration announced it planned to end Title 42 on May 23.
Immigration advocates, who had been calling on President Joe Biden to end the practice because it blocks immigrants from accessing the US asylum system, welcomed the announcement. However, Republicans and some Democrats have called on the Biden administration to put off ending the policy because there wasn't a plan in place to deal with a sudden increase of immigrants at the border once Title 42 is lifted.
Since it went into effect in March 2020, the policy was used more than 1.7 million times to quickly expel immigrants and asylum-seekers at the border. A senior Biden administration official told a federal court last week that 49% of all single adults from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras turned away at the border under Title 42 try to cross again shortly after.
With Title 42 ending, the White House has been preparing for multiple scenarios for higher than normal numbers of immigrants crossing the border. DHS officials said they have been preparing for scenarios that call for dealing with as many as 18,000 encounters with immigrants at the border a day.
Former president Donald Trump first announced the use of Title 42 as a tool to contain the coronavirus. Immigrants encountered by US border officers were quickly processed and sent back to Mexico or were flown back to their home countries.
Immigrants advocates and public health experts have criticized the publicly stated rationale for Title 42, arguing that the policy did not help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and placed vulnerable asylum-seekers in danger. Human Rights First tracked at least 10,250 reports of kidnappings, rape, and other attacks on immigrants blocked in or expelled to Mexico under Title 42 during the Biden administration.
Wednesday's temporary restraining order is part of a lawsuit filed by Arizona, Louisiana, and Missouri in the federal District Court for the Western District of Louisiana that was later joined by an additional 18 states. The 21 Republican-led states asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order halting the Biden administration from moving forward with its plan to end Title 42 in late May.