WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court temporarily blocks an order that would lift restrictions on pandemic-era asylum seekers, but the brief order leaves open the prospect that restrictions that have been in place since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and have been used hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers could still die on Wednesday.
Monday’s order by Chief Justice John Roberts – who handles emergency cases coming from federal courts in the nation’s capital – comes as conservative states push to uphold asylum-seeker limits put in place to stem the spread of COVID-19. to go. The states appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in a last-ditch effort before the restrictions expire on Wednesday, saying lifting limits on asylum seekers would cause irreparable damage to their states.
In the one-page order, Roberts granted a stay pending a further order and asked the government to respond by 5 p.m. Tuesday. That’s just hours before the restrictions expire on Wednesday.
Roberts’ order means that the high-profile case that has been intensely investigated at a time when Republicans are seeking to take control of the House and make immigration a key issue will come to the wire.
The immigration restrictions, often referred to as Title 42, were introduced in March 2020 under then-President Donald Trump and have prevented hundreds of thousands of migrants from seeking asylum in the US in recent years. But as they draw to a close, thousands more migrants are crammed into detention centers on the Mexican border with the US
Conservative-leaning states have argued that lifting Title 42 will lead to a surge of migrants into their states and take a toll on government services such as health care or law enforcement. They also claim that the federal government has no plan to deal with an increase in migrants.
“The review by this Court is justified in view of the enormous national importance of this case. It cannot reasonably be disputed that the failure to grant a deferral will cause an unprecedented disaster at the southern border,” the states wrote in their request on Monday.
Immigration advocates have said that using Title 42 goes against US and international obligations to people fleeing to the US to escape persecution. And they have argued that things like vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus have rendered the policy obsolete. They filed a lawsuit to end the use of Title 42; a federal judge in November sided with them and set the December 21 deadline.
Immigration attorneys weighed in on Roberts’ order. In a statement, Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president and CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, called the decision “deeply regrettable”.
“The Biden administration must vigorously defend our humanitarian obligations in the face of politically motivated litigation. Title 42 was never based on any public health rationale,” Vignarajah said in a statement late Monday.
In a statement late Monday, the Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for enforcing border security, said that since Title 42 is still in effect, people who try to enter the U.S. “illegitimately” will be deported to Mexico .
“As this phase of the process progresses, we will continue our preparations to manage the border in a safe, orderly and humane manner when the Title 42 public health order is lifted,” the statement said.
Leading up to the end of Title 42, state officials said they are sending more resources to the southern border, including more border patrol processing coordinators, increased surveillance and heightened security at ports of entry. About 23,000 agents are currently deployed to the southern border, according to the White House.
Before the Supreme Court intervened, White House officials stressed Monday that the administration was bound by a court order to lift the pandemic-era border policy, despite urging from Republicans and some Democrats in Congress to extend it.
“The removal of Title 42 does not mean the border is open,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, White House press secretary.
Jean-Pierre said the administration has “additional robust planning underway” and urged Congress to approve $3.5 billion in more funding for DHS as lawmakers continue to negotiate details for a massive spending bill the end of the year.
That money for DHS would increase transportation options so that migrants could be moved to less congested border facilities or quickly removed if they have no legal reason to stay. It would also fund more detention facilities, help speed up the processing of asylum applications and hire an additional 300 border guards.
In the border communities, officials and aid organizations have also prepared for the end of Title 42 and are doing so at a time when temperatures are expected to plummet as an Arctic blast hurtles south.
Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez in the Texas border community of McAllen said Border Patrol agents have met with city and county officials, including in Mexico, to prepare for an influx of migrants crossing the border once the Title 42 policy is passed. expires. He is concerned about where migrants can sleep or get a hot meal and whether the bridge between the US and Mexico will remain open to commercial traffic.
“When they get overwhelmed at the arrival ports, they just let them loose… and so where do they sleep at night, where do they eat? It just puts us in an unfamiliar situation. What are we preparing for?’ he said. ‘We’re going to do our very best. To me, I don’t know why Congress hasn’t sat down and tried to improve the situation.
Associated Press reporters Seung Min Kim in Washington and Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City contributed to this report