A federal judge on Thursday ruled that the Biden administration can no longer cite COVID-19 to rapidly deport migrant families — despite record numbers of largely unvaccinated migrants seeking to enter the US as coronavirus patients clog hospitals and deaths mount.
US District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that US officials can no longer cite the CDC’s Title 42 health order to deport families after the rule allowed for the swift deportation of nearly 1 million people.
The judge wrote that “in view of the wide availability of testing, vaccines, and other minimization measures, the Court is not convinced that the transmission of COVID-19 during border processing cannot be significantly mitigated.”
Sullivan added: “Indeed, the government has successfully implemented mitigation measures with regard to processing unaccompanied minors in order to minimize risk of COVID-19 transmission.”
Pro-immigration advocates cheered the ruling. Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, told CNN, “President Biden should have ended this cruel and lawless policy long ago, and the court was correct to reject it today.”
The Title 42 policy was first adopted by the Trump administration last year, but was continued by Biden administration officials as illegal crossings surged this year. President Biden made an exception for the large number of unaccompanied children coming from Central America.
The order doesn’t prohibit the Biden administration from citing Title 42 to expel single adults.
Sullivan is best-known for refusing the Justice Department’s request last year to stop the prosecution of former national security advisor Mike Flynn after the DOJ said FBI agent Peter Strzok had no valid basis to interview Flynn about calls with Russia’s ambassador. Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying about those calls, but later sought to withdraw his plea, saying he did not intentionally lie.
Then-President Trump pardoned Flynn while Sullivan resisted dropping the case.
Republicans have urged the Biden administration to keep Title 42 in place and administration attorneys defended the policy in court.
The ruling was announced shortly after Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday said he will attempt to close entry points at the Mexican border so the state won’t be overrun — as a crowd of more than 8,200 people, including many fleeing Haiti, amassed under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, waiting to be arrested by Border Patrol agents.
Data released Thursday indicate that for two straight months – July and August – border detentions surpassed 200,000, despite Biden’s insistent that a Spring surge in illegal crossings reflected a seasonal bump.
Biden was vice president to President Barack Obama — called the “Deporter in Chief” by immigration advocates — but campaigned on welcoming asylum seekers. Biden has called on Congress to legalize most illegal immigrants and stopped construction of Trump’s US-Mexico border wall.
The Biden administration already eased up on quickly deporting family units. In August, more than 70,000 migrant families were allowed into the US and about 16,000 were expelled, according to US Customs and Border Protection data cited by CNN.
Although the new ruling forbids the use of the COVID-19 policy to deport families, a different federal court ruling may mute its effect. The Supreme Court last month ruled that the Biden administration improperly scrapped Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy that required most asylum seekers to remain in Mexico and wait for US courts to review their claims of persecution.