The limits of asylum in the age of the pandemic were debated in front of a federal judge | Policy

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — A federal judge heard arguments Friday about whether the Biden administration could soon lift pandemic-related restrictions on migrants seeking asylum.

U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays did not say when he will rule but said it will be soon. The administration plans to lift the restrictions on May 23.

Previous Summerhays rulings in the case have been favorable to states challenging the plan.

Drew Ensign, an Arizona attorney, said the administration failed to follow proper administrative procedures requiring public notice and the gathering of public comment on the decision to end the restrictions imposed under what the ‘the authority is called Title 42. And, he said, particular attention has not been paid to the likely increase in border crossings and their possible effects, including strain on the systems of state health and the diversion of resources from border enforcement of drug interdiction to control of illegal crossings.

Jean Lin of the Justice Department argued that the US Centers for Disease Control had the authority to lift an emergency health restriction that they said was no longer needed. She said the CDC order was a matter of health policy, not immigration policy.

“There’s no reason to use Title 42 as a safety valve,” Lin told Summerhays.

Migrants have been deported more than 1.8 million times since March 2020 under the federal Title 42 authority, which denied them the ability to seek asylum under U.S. law and international treaty on the grounds prevent the spread of COVID-19.

On April 1, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced President Joe Biden’s plan to end the restriction by May 23, drawing criticism from Republicans and some Democrats who fear the administration is not prepared for a widely expected influx of migrants.

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

After the administration acknowledged last month that it had already begun phasing out the pandemic restriction by processing more migrants under the Immigration Act instead of Title 42, Summerhays ordered a halt to the phasing out.

Appointed by then-President Donald Trump, Summerhays wrote last month that removing restrictions before May 23 would inflict “sunk costs on health care, law enforcement, detention, education and other services” on states seeking to maintain the current policy.

He also said the administration likely did not follow federal rule-making procedures when planning for the policy to end on May 23. Friday’s arguments centered on whether to keep the restrictions in place beyond that date while litigation continues. It’s unclear how quickly Summerhays will rule.

Several migrant advocacy groups have called on Summerhays to at least allow Title 42 to be lifted as planned in California and New Mexico, two border states that have not challenged the administration’s decision.

Separately, Congress presented another potential hurdle at the end of Title 42. Several moderate Democrats joined Republicans in expressing concern that authorities are unprepared for an influx of migrants.

A large number of illegal crossings has encouraged some Republicans to try to make the border and immigration an election year issue. US authorities arrested migrants more than 221,000 times at the Mexican border in March, a 22-year high. 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. Mexico has agreed to take back migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico – and a limited number from Cuba and Nicaragua. High costs, strained diplomatic relations and other considerations have made it more difficult to return migrants from other countries, who must be flown home.

Title 42 is one of two major Trump-era policies to deter border asylum.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about whether to allow the administration to force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for U.S. immigration court hearings. This case began before another judge appointed by Trump, in Amarillo, Texas.

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