US federal judge blocks attempt to end COVID-19 ‘turnback’ policy at US-Mexico border
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US federal judge blocks attempt to end COVID-19 ‘turnback’ policy at US-Mexico border

The Biden-Harris administration’s attempt to end the controversial Title 42 was Friday blocked by Judge Robert Summerhays of the US District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

Title 42 allows border patrol officials to quickly deport migrants at the US-Mexico border, whether or not they are legally seeking asylum, in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. Title 42 was initially instituted under the Trump-Pence administration, with criticism and support falling largely along party lines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) attempted to end the policy on April 1 this year, but a group of Republican attorneys general sued the CDC to maintain the order. Judge Summerhays ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, allowing the policy to stay in place while the plaintiffs challenged the administrative process that the CDC used to make the rule change.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, one of the plaintiffs, heralded the ruling as a “GREAT win for the rule of law,” accusing the Biden-Harris administration of “lawlessness.” Former Vice President Mike Pence also applauded the decision, saying that he was “[g]rateful to US Judge Robert Summerhays for blocking the Biden Administration from ending Title 42 and making the worst Border Crisis in American history even worse.”

Data released by the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) shows a large increase in encounters between migrants and Border Patrol officials over the last year. Title 42 authorizes the CBP to use a process called expedited removal, which allows officials to immediately begin deportation, without a need for immigration court proceedings to do so.

The policy does not include any special protections for migrants that are seeking asylum, which has drawn criticism from many human rights organizations. Human Rights Watch stated:

Human Rights Watch has previously witnessed and documented CBP agents performing illegal “turnbacks” <of migrants exercising their right to seek asylum. Human Rights Watch has also foundagents have failed to refer for interviews with asylum officers people who have expressed a fear of return to their country of origin, and instead rapidly deported them to potential danger. Giving CBP agents even greater power to unilaterally and summarily decide claims under the expulsion order risks further wrongful return of people who may be refugees.

The White House shared its disapproval of the ruling, but stated that it intended to comply. The Department of Justice has announced its intention to appeal the ruling.