© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Cuban migrants, who were expelled from the U.S. and sent back to Mexico under Title 42, walk near the at the Lerdo Stanton International border bridge, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico May 3, 2022. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
By Kristina Cooke and Mica Rosenberg
(Reuters) – U.S. authorities cannot immediately proceed with plans to lift pandemic restrictions that empowered U.S. agents at the Mexico border to turn back migrants without a chance to seek asylum, a Louisiana-based judge said on Friday.
The nationwide injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays means the restrictions, which were set to end on May 23, will remain in place across the border as the litigation proceeds, barring any appeal by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The pandemic restrictions, known as Title 42, were put in place in March 2020 during the administration of former Republican President Donald Trump, an immigration hardliner. Health authorities at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said at the time it was needed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Since then, more than a million migrants apprehended at the border have been rapidly expelled to Mexico or other countries under the order, often within hours of being caught.
President Joe Biden, a Democrat who took office in January 2021, kept Title 42 in place, despite concerns from medical experts, the United Nations and leading members of his own party who said the expulsions put vulnerable migrants in danger and were not based on science.
Last month, the CDC said Title 42 was no longer needed to fight COVID-19 due to the increased availability of vaccines and other tools. The health agency gave border authorities until May 23 to prepare for its end.
But a coalition of two dozen states led by Arizona, Louisiana and Missouri, all with Republican attorneys general, sued to prevent the Biden administration from ending the policy. Judge Summerhays, a Trump appointee, said a nationwide injunction is necessary given the ability of immigrants crossing the border to move freely from one state to another.