A federal judge's order for an immediate end to a cornerstone of federal border enforcement since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic could further complicate efforts to slow the flow of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Associated Press reports. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan of Washington, D.C., ruled that the Biden administration's continuation of a policy enacted by the Trump administration, using Title 42 of a public-health law to force certain asylum seekers to remain in Mexico pending rulings in their cases, was "arbitrary and capricious." The policy, ostensibly designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, has resulted in more than 2.4 million expulsions since it took effect in March 2020.
The Justice Department sought a stay until Dec. 21, to give it five weeks to prepare, a move unopposed by plaintiffs in the case, including the American Civil Liberties Union. The Biden administration itself sought to end the policy but in May was blocked by a ruling by a Louisiana federal judge. Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel for the American Immigration Council, an immigrant advocacy group, explained that the Louisiana ruling applied only to how the Biden administration tried to end Title 42, while the new ruling found the entire rule invalid. The ban on asylum seekers remaining in the U.S. has been applied unevenly, falling largely on migrants Mexico accepts from the U.S.; besides Mexicans, this includes Central Americans. Nationalities that are less likely to be subject to Title 42 have become a growing presence at the border, confident they will be released in the United States to pursue their immigration cases. In October, Cubans were the second-largest nationality at the border after Mexicans, followed by Venezuelans and Nicaraguans. “This is an enormous victory for desperate asylum seekers who have been barred from even getting a hearing because of the misuse of public laws,” said ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt. “This ruling hopefully puts an end to this horrendous period in U.S. history in which we abandoned our solemn commitment to provide refuge to those facing persecution.”