LAFAYETTE, Louisiana — Lawyers from 24 states critical of the Biden administration’s immigration policies argued Friday for a nationwide injunction to keep expedited deportations of migrants as part of public policy tied to the pandemic, and a federal judge said he plans to issue an order before the policy is set to be overturned on May 23.
Judge Robert R. Summerhays of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana did not say how he would rule, but he previously supported arguments made by the 24 mostly Republican-led states to force the measure, known as the Title name. 42, to stay in place.
Scott St. John, Louisiana’s deputy solicitor general, said after the hearing that he was “confident” based on the judge’s comments during the hearing that the states that had sued were “in a good position.” .
Mary Yanik, an attorney with the Tulane Immigration Rights Clinic, said Judge Summerhays’ posture seemed consistent throughout the more than two-hour hearing in Lafayette, Louisiana.
“The judge seemed skeptical that this is a purely public health order,” she said. “And he doesn’t seem convinced that the federal government can ignore the consequences of immigration.”
Most of the lead attorneys in the case declined to comment after arguments.
At stake is whether the Biden administration can proceed with its announced plans to lift Title 42, given the recent easing of the coronavirus pandemic, a move that would allow thousands of migrants a day who are currently being turned away to instead enter the country and submit asylum applications.
The Department of Homeland Security said it was preparing for the possibility of 18,000 migrants showing up daily once the measure is lifted, up from 8,000 currently. The heads of state who lodged the complaint said local authorities were unprepared for such an influx at a time when migration to the southern border is already at record levels.
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About two million people have been deported since March 2020 under the order, many of whom would otherwise have been admitted to the United States for an assessment of their asylum claims or placed in deportation proceedings. These processes often take months or years.
The judge has already issued a temporary restraining order, renewed this week, barring the government from taking steps to reverse the policy before ruling on the case.
Arguments made by both sides in Friday’s hearing centered on whether Title 42 was a public health policy or an immigration policy. Lawyers for the federal government continued to argue that the policy was narrowly limited to protecting against coronavirus transmission while state lawyers who sued listed the costs states would incur if Title 42 were lifted – for the health systems, law enforcement, education, social services, and even agencies that would issue more driver’s licenses.
The Biden administration said its plans to lift the measure were based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s April 1 announcement that it was no longer needed given the widespread availability of vaccines.
“The CDC did exactly what an agency should do,” Judge Jean Lin, an attorney representing the federal government, told Judge, noting that the agency reassessed virus conditions in the country every 60 days. Dealing with the “downstream consequences of Title 42 is outside the CDC’s statutory authority,” she said.
The public health order required the US Border Patrol to turn away migrants who have crossed land borders since March 2020, when it was introduced, without allowing them to seek asylum, either by deporting them by bus to Mexico, or by plane to their country of origin. .
Two days after the CDC’s announcement, Arizona, Louisiana and Missouri filed suit in federal court to keep the policy in place, arguing that terminating it would cause them irreparable harm. They were later joined by 21 other states.
On Friday, the judge denied a motion by a family seeking asylum on the California-Mexico border and a non-profit organization to join the lawsuit in order to argue that the judge, if he decides that title 42 is maintained, would apply its decision only to the States. which are part of the dispute.
This would theoretically allow the administration to begin accepting asylum seekers in several border states, including California, New Mexico, Washington, Minnesota, Michigan, Vermont and New York. North Dakota and Idaho were the only northern border states to join the litigation; on the southern border, Texas and Arizona were part of the lawsuit.
“Texas and Arizona should not be allowed to dictate immigration policy for the entire country,” said Talia Inlender, associate director of the Center for Immigration Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law, who was the lawyer for the family seeking asylum and the organization. .
“We are still hopeful that the judge, if he issues an injunction to keep Title 42 in place, will limit it to the suing states,” she said.
Republicans campaigning on immigration and moderate Democrats facing close November midterm races have called for Title 42 to remain in place, citing the potential for overcrowding and unrest on the southern border.
Republican lawmakers have called for a vote on an amendment that would preserve the policy, which has already withheld a separate Covid-19 aid package.
Eileen Sullivan and Emily Cochrane contributed report. Susan C. Beachy contributed to the research.