Updated May 20, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Federal judge blocks Biden from ending COVID border policy

 Immigrants wait to be processed by the U.S. Border Patrol after crossing through a gap in the U.S.-Mexico border barrier
Immigrants wait to be processed by the U.S. Border Patrol. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

A federal judge has blocked the Biden administration from ending Title 42 — a controversial border policy that has allowed officials to rapidly turn back migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border nearly 2 million times.

Why it matters: The administration had planned to end the policy on Monday. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have decried the end of the policy — implemented as public health initiative under the Trump administration to block migrants from coming during the pandemic — out of concern that ending Title 42 would exacerbate already record numbers at the border.

  • Judge Robert Summerhays issued the 47-page ruling granting the injunction to keep it in place.
  • "Given the impact of the Termination Order on the Plaintiff States and their showing that the CDC did not comply with the [Administrative Procedure Act], the Court concludes that the public interest would be served by a preliminary injunction preventing the termination of the CDC's Title 42 Orders," the ruling reads.

The latest: The Department of Justice said Friday it intends to appeal the court's decision.

  • “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) invoked its authority under Title 42 due to the unprecedented public-health dangers caused by the COVID-19 pandemic," DOJ spokesperson Anthony Coley said.
  • "CDC has now determined, in its expert opinion, that continued reliance on this authority is no longer warranted in light of the current public-health circumstances. That decision was a lawful exercise of CDC’s authority."

The big picture: The CDC announced at the start of April the Trump-era border policy would end on May 23, citing declining cases of COVID-19 and improved access to vaccines.

  • The announcement sparked uproar from Republicans and moderate Democrats concerned the Department of Homeland Security was not adequately prepared to handle an expected rush of migrants once the policy is lifted.
  • Twenty-four states also asked Summerhays for a nationwide injunction to keep Title 42 in place.
  • Bipartisan efforts in the Senate to pass an amendment to keep Title 42 in place have also played a role in stalling the latest COVID relief passage.

On the other hand, immigration activists and some Democrats have long criticized the Biden administration for using the policy as long as it had and celebrated the CDC's announcement to end it.

  • The policy cites the public health emergency as a reason to block migrants from accessing the U.S. asylum system.

What they're saying: “The decision is wrong and we would expect the administration to take immediate action to undo this injunction if the White House is actually serious about finally getting rid of the Trump administration’s unlawful attempts to eliminate protections for asylum seekers," ACLU's Lee Gelernt, who is the lead attorney in the Title 42 lawsuits in DC, told Axios in a statement.

By the numbers: Border officials encountered migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border more than 234,000 times last month — a new monthly record, according to DHS data released this week.

  • Only last month, Title 42 was used nearly 97,000 times, with 76% of migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador expelled.

Editor's note: This is a breaking news story and has been updated throughout.

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