(AFP)— A federal judge threw US policy toward undocumented Southwest border crossers into turmoil Thursday by ruling that COVID-19 restrictions cannot be used to expel migrant families.
Washington District Judge Emmet Sullivan supported pro-migrant groups who challenged the administration of President Joe Biden on August 2 to drop the policy of predecessor Donald Trump of using contagion-prevention laws to halt hundreds of thousands of people trying to cross the border from Mexico.
Sullivan issued a temporary injunction against blocking migrant families using the so-called Title 42 rule starting on September 30.
That will leave the administration without a crucial tool that had been used to expel more than 92,000 border-crossers last month alone.
But that two-week delay gives the Department of Homeland Security, in charge of border policy, the opportunity to appeal to keep the policy in place.
Sullivan ruled that nothing about Title 42 of federal public health laws permitted the government to use them to deny migrants the right to seek humanitarian protection and asylum.
He also said that, given the spread of vaccinations and lack of evidence that migrants were exacerbating the coronavirus pandemic, the government could no longer justify the use of the law to repatriate migrants.
“The court is not convinced that the transmission of COVID-19 during border processing cannot be significantly mitigated,” he said.
He noted that children who cross the border into the United States without family are permitted to stay and be resettled in an exception to Title 42 policy.
“President Biden should have ended this cruel and lawless policy long ago, and the court was correct to reject it today,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, which joined other plaintiffs in the case.
There was no immediate response from the Department of Homeland Security.