US begins phasing out COVID-related asylum restrictions | Policy

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Biden administration said Friday it had begun phasing out the use of a pandemic-related rule that allows migrants to be deported without the ability to seek asylum as 22 states are fighting in court to preserve the policy.

U.S. authorities have processed more single adults from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in recent weeks under immigration laws, which include the right to seek asylum, said Blas Nuñez-Neto, Secretary Acting Homeland Security Deputy for Border and Immigration Policy. The pandemic-related rule is set to expire on May 23.

Nuñez-Neto’s statement was part of a filing in federal court in Lafayette, Louisiana, where Louisiana, Arizona and Missouri sued this month to uphold the rule. Eighteen other states later joined, and on Thursday the states asked a judge to stop what they called the “premature implementation” of the end of the rule.

Nuñez-Neto said enforcing non-health-related immigration laws is “not new” during the pandemic and that their increasing use on single adults in Central American countries will help prepare for May 23 expiration.

About 14% of single adults in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were processed under immigration laws in a seven-day period ending Thursday, Nuñez-Neto said. That’s up from just 5% in March, according to government figures.

Single adults in those countries have been targeted by the rule because Mexico has agreed to take them back while the rule is in effect, an option that will disappear for US authorities when the powers are lifted.

It was unclear how quickly the judge handling the case, U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays, appointed by former President Donald Trump, would rule on the states restraining order request.

Meanwhile, the state of Texas on Friday filed its own challenge to the rule’s termination in federal court in Victoria, Texas. The case had not been assigned to a judge on Friday afternoon. The Justice Department declined to comment on the Texas lawsuit.

Migrants have been deported more than 1.8 million times under the rule, which was invoked by the Trump administration in March 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Advocates for asylum seekers support ending the rule, which they say endangers people fleeing persecution in their home countries and violates the right to seek protection under U.S. law and treaties international. States challenging the administration say the United States is not ready for a likely influx of migrants resulting from the end of the rule, straining public services and economies.

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Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.

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