The US Supreme Court will for now uphold the limits on asylum that were imposed during the pandemic, dashing the hopes of migrants from Latin America and other parts of the world who have been fleeing violence and inequality in their countries. of origin and trying to reach the United States.

Tuesday’s ruling preserves a policy implemented during the Donald Trump administration that was scheduled to expire on December 21 by order of a federal judge. The case will be heard in February in the highest court, and the extension issued last week by Chief Justice John Roberts, which keeps the restrictions in place, will be valid until the judges make a decision.

Attempts to remove the asylum restrictions, often referred to as Title 42 after a 1944 public health law, have been tortuous in the courts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tried to end them in April 2022, but a federal judge in Louisiana ruled in May in favor of 19 Republican-ruled states to keep them in place. Another federal judge in Washington said in November that Title 42 must end, so the dispute went to the Supreme Court.

Under that policy, the United States has expelled asylum seekers from within the country 2.5 million times on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Immigrant advocates have filed a lawsuit to end the enforcement of Title 42, arguing that it goes against US and international obligations to people fleeing persecution. They have also pointed out that the policy is outdated due to improvements in coronavirus treatments.

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision comes at a time when thousands of migrants have flocked to the Mexican side of the border, overwhelming shelters and worrying activists seeking ways to care for them.

“We are extremely disappointed for all the desperate asylum seekers who will continue to suffer because of Title 42, but we will continue to fight to end the policy,” said Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which had advocated for it to be put in place. end of restrictions.

Andrea Rudnik, co-founder of Team Brownsville, an immigrant nonprofit in South Texas, said the situation at the border is a humanitarian crisis. She pointed out that there are thousands of migrants camping under cardboard boxes and in makeshift tents near the entrance to the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Mexico, which borders Brownsville, without food, water, clothing or toilets.

“Very quickly it’s becoming a dangerous situation because there are no bathrooms,” Rudnik said. “Gather all those people without bathrooms and you know what’s going to happen.”

States that wanted Title 42 upheld praised Tuesday’s ruling. In a press release, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds praised the court’s decision, though she said it is not a permanent solution to the country’s immigration problems.

“I am grateful that Title 42 remains in effect to help deter illegal entry at the southern border of the United States. But make no mistake, this is just a temporary solution to a crisis that President Biden and his administration have ignored for two years,” she asserted.

Tuesday’s ruling specifies that the Supreme Court will review the issue of whether states have the right to intervene in the legal dispute over Title 42. The federal government and immigrant advocates have argued that states waited too long to intervene. , and that even if they had not waited so long, they lack the legal status to do so.

In a dissent, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote that, even if the highest court found that the states had a right to intervene and Title 42 had been legitimately adopted, “the emergency on which those orders were based has expired a long time ago.”

The judges noted that the “current border crisis is not a COVID crisis.”

“And courts should not be engaged in perpetuating administrative edicts designed for an emergency just because elected officials have failed to resolve a different emergency. We are a court of law, not policy makers of last resort,” the judges wrote.

Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor also voted against upholding the restrictions, but did not sign a dissent.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday that President Joe Biden’s administration “will, of course, comply with the order and prepare for court review.”

“At the same time, we are advancing our preparations to manage the border in a safe, orderly, and humane manner when Title 42 is finally lifted, and we will continue to expand legal pathways for immigration,” Jean-Pierre added. “Title 42 is a public health measure, not an immigration measure, and it should not be extended indefinitely.”

In November, a federal judge ruled in favor of pro-immigrant activists, setting a December 21 date to end the use of Title 42. A group of conservative-leaning states turned to the Supreme Court to prevent the caps from being removed. , warning that an increase in immigration would affect public services and cause an “unprecedented calamity” for which the federal government lacked a plan, they said.

Judge Roberts, who handles emergency matters coming from federal courts in the nation’s capital, ordered an extension to give the court time to further examine the arguments of both sides.

The federal government asked the Supreme Court to reject the states’ position, while also acknowledging that ending the restrictions abruptly would likely lead to “disruption and a temporary increase in illegal border crossings.”

The precise question before the highest court is a complicated, largely procedural question of whether states should be allowed to intervene in the lawsuit.

Until the judge’s order in November in the activists’ lawsuit, the states had not sought to participate in that case. But they say the government has essentially abandoned the defense of Title 42 policy and they should be able to participate. The government has appealed the ruling, though it has not attempted to keep Title 42 operating pending the case.

The Biden administration still has considerable leeway to enforce Title 42 as aggressively or as leniently as it chooses. For example, when a judge last year ordered the reinstatement of the “Remain in Mexico” policy to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico for their hearings in US immigration courts, it was so narrow in scope that it had little impact. That policy came to an end in August after the Supreme Court upheld the government’s position.

The Biden administration’s use of Title 42 includes an opaque and bewildering patchwork of exemptions purported to be for migrants considered the most vulnerable in Mexico, perhaps because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, or because they have been specifically threatened. with violence. Customs and Border Protection works with partners that it does not publicly identify or say how many slots are allocated to each.

Mexico is another imponderable. The use of Title 42 to remove migrants quickly depends to a large extent on the willingness of the Mexican government to accept them. Mexico currently accepts deported migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Venezuela, in addition to Mexicans, but not from other countries, for example Cuba. Most asylum seekers who cannot be sent to Mexico are not expelled.

Biden is scheduled to meet with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico City next month.

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