A US federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked President Joe Biden from ending a policy allowing the government to quickly expel migrants at the southern border during the pandemic.
The Biden administration had been on track to lift the measure, known as Title 42, on May 23 — a decision that sparked uproar among Republicans and many Democrats, as well as advocates for tougher border controls.
The US District Court in Louisiana said after a videoconference with lawyers it had “announced its intent to grant the motion” originally filed by Missouri, Louisiana and Arizona to stay the termination.
“The parties will confer regarding the specific terms to be contained in the Temporary Restraining Order and attempt to reach agreement,” it said in the ruling.
The order prevents the administration from taking any action before a hearing on May 13 to determine whether Title 42 can be lifted.
The three Republican states that brought the lawsuit — later joined by 18 others — celebrated a major win they hoped would avert the unprecedented influx of migrants predicted by Homeland Security officials.
“This is a huge victory for border security, but the fight continues on,” said Eric Schmitt, the attorney general for Missouri.
His Arizona counterpart Mark Brnovich said he was “so proud” of the lawyers in his administration in a tweet confirming the ruling.
“We will continue to fight the Biden administration’s open border policies,” he said.
The lawsuit was filed after the White House announced in early April it would lift the measure following months of pressure from migrant advocates who said it denied people their right to seek asylum.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the order was “no longer necessary” due to “an increased availability of tools to fight Covid-19.”
Enacted at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 under former President Donald Trump, the measure required border agents to turn away anyone who crossed illegally into the United States.
Since then, migrants have been expelled more than 1.7 million times under the policy.
Republicans, backed by many border-state Democrats up for reelection in the November midterms, warned that dropping Title 42 would exacerbate what they describe as a migration crisis.
“This suit challenges an imminent, man-made, self-inflicted calamity: the abrupt elimination of the only safety valve preventing this administration’s disastrous border policies from devolving into an unmitigated chaos and catastrophe,” the complaint says.
US Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, who chairs the powerful judiciary committee, told Republicans in a letter Monday he had asked the White House for a classified briefing on the expected effect of lifting Title 42.
“The status of the CDC’s Title 42 public health order — which is not an immigration enforcement authority — does not absolve the Senate of our responsibility to act on long-overdue immigration reform legislation on a bipartisan basis,” he said.
A group of nine Republican lawmakers was touring a section of the border as the court deliberated, to keep up pressure on Biden over his immigration policies.
“This is no longer about parties, this is about people. Everybody in this crisis, everybody’s world is turned upside down,” said Tony Gonzales, whose district stretches from San Antonio to El Paso.