WASHINGTON – Tuesday, the administration of President Joe Biden told the Supreme Court that Republican state officials have no right to stand in the way of the decision to end the Title 42 program. This program lets the government quickly send back migrants trying to enter the country because of fears that COVID-19 will spread.
The filing by the administration is the latest step in a fight over a policy from the Trump administration. This fight is happening while the southwest border is in chaos, and officials are getting ready for a flood of migrants if Title 42 is lifted. That was supposed to occur on Wednesday, but the Supreme Court stepped in at the last minute and changed the plans.
In brief for the government, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the court that the states “do not claim to be trying to protect public health or slow the spread of COVID-19.” “Instead, they say that they want to use the Title 42 orders as a stopgap to control immigration.”
The administration told the court that the government knows that ending the Title 42 orders will likely cause chaos and a temporary rise in illegal border crossings. “But the solution to the immigration problem can’t be to keep a public health measure in place indefinitely, even though we all agree that it no longer serves a public health purpose.”
Chief Justice John Roberts temporarily stopped the Biden administration from ending Title 42 on Monday night. This was in response to a request from 19 conservative states that wanted to keep it in place. Roberts asked the federal government to answer the appeal by Tuesday evening, just a few hours before the program ended.
In a filing on Tuesday, the administration asked that if the court denied the states’ request before Friday, the short-term stay should stay in place until 11:59 p.m. on December 27. This would keep Title 42 from ending for a few more days. The government said this short extension would give them time to prepare for a total return to operations. Roberts’s one-page order did not say how the Supreme Court would rule on the state’s request. In the next few days, the high court will likely make a decision that will last longer.
Title 42 lets Customs and Border Protection agents send migrants back to Mexico or their home countries without the usual legal review. This is done to stop the spread of COVID-19 in holding facilities. Since Title 42 was enacted in 2020, it has been used more than 2.4 million times to send migrants back to their home countries. This has kept tens of thousands of migrants in Mexican border cities while they wait to ask for asylum in the United States.
In April, the Biden administration said it planned to end the policy because vaccines and treatments had made the virus less dangerous.
As politicians in Washington tried to figure out what the Supreme Court might do, those in charge along the border said they were getting ready for the program to end – at some point. El Paso, Texas, Mayor Oscar Leeser said that the city would continue to help migrants who were released by the Border Patrol in both a humanitarian and a logistical way. Leeser declared a state of emergency because the Border Patrol ran into 2,500 people daily in the area.
On the other side of the border, there was chaos. Some migrants in Juárez said they heard the wall would “close” on Wednesday, while others said it would “open.” Over the weekend, people staying in shelters talked about friends who had been sent back to Mexico and others who had been allowed to remain in the U.S.
Kelson Joseph was one of the people waiting. He has been in Juarez for the past year, waiting for the U.S. immigration policy to change.
On Monday, Joseph stood on the south side of the Rio Grande and looked upstream. Before coming to the United States, the 26-year-old Haitian had been to most of the Western Hemisphere. He had worked in Brazil and then at an assembly plant in Juárez. His work permit in Mexico had run out, and he was eager to return to California to see his friends and family.
“Joseph said in Spanish, “I’ve been afraid to cross because there have been so many deportations. But some say it will be simpler (after Title 42 ends). I’m just going to wait and see. I’ll try to cross when I hear it’s a good time to do so.” The Title 42 lawsuits have put the Biden administration in an odd situation. On the one hand, it seems the administration wants to end the program.
On the other hand, it has been criticized by Republicans and some Democrats who are worried that border officials are not ready for a possible flood of new asylum seekers. Department of Homeland Security officials says they have rushed resources to the border. Still, the White House is also trying to get more money from Congress to deal with a possible increase in migrants.
The administration has gone to court to fight a decision from a U.S. District Court last month that told it to stop expelling people, even though it had planned to do that on its own. Experts say that this appeal is based on the idea that a government should be able to run such programs in the same way in the future. The White House said Tuesday that Biden would go to Mexico next month to meet with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. In January, Biden will be in Mexico City for a meeting of North American leaders.
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