Federal judge blocks end of Title 42; Yuma mayor voiced concern prior to ruling
PHOENIX - A federal judge in Louisiana is refusing to end pandemic-related restrictions on migrants seeking asylum on the southern border.
The judge on Friday blocked a plan by President Joe Biden's administration to lift the restrictions, which were implemented under a policy known as Title 42. The policy was supposed to end on May 23.
Arizona and Louisiana led 24 states in challenging the plan to end the restrictions. While the lawsuit was backed by many GOP politicians, Democrats have also been divided, saying if Title 42 is lifted, it could wreak havoc at the border, and that more needs to be done to address a potential surge.
In response to the ruling, White House officials said they would follow the judge's ruling. but added the authority to set public health policy nationally "should rest with the Centers for Disease Control, not with a single district court."
What is Title 42?
Title 42, according to the Associated Press, refers to a previously little-used health authority to quickly expel nearly anyone encountered along the Southwest border.
The Trump administration invoked Title 42 in March 2020. U.S. authorities have since expelled migrants more than 1.7 million times under Title 42 authority, using the threat of COVID-19 to deny migrants a chance to seek asylum as required under U.S. law and international treaty.
Title 42 is a health policy border officials used to expel illegal immigrants. Since March 2020, the policy has been used to expel over 1.7 million migrants.
Some have argued that as the U.S. heads out of pandemic-related restrictions, Title 42 is no longer necessary.
"Utilizing this very mean spirited policy to turn away women and children that are seeking help from our country is absolutely inhumane and wrong.," said Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA).
Homeland Security Secretary tried to assuage concerns prior to ruling
Earlier in the week, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas met with U.S. Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. During the meeting, agents briefed Secretary Mayorkas on their readiness and response to the illegal border crossings.
"We are surging resources to the southwest border," said Secretary Mayorkas. "Personnel, facilities, medical resources, transportation. Second, we are improving the efficiency of our processing without compromising the security and integrity of our screening and vetting of individuals."
Secretary Mayorkas also said the ending of Title 42, as originally scheduled, did not mean the border is open.
"We continue to enforce the laws of this country," said Secretary Mayorkas.
Critics express concerns
Critics say if Title 42 is lifted, it will create a new surge of illegal crossings. Currently, two dozen attorneys general from Republican-controlled states, including Arizona's attorney general, are suing to keep it in place.
Secretary Mayorkas said the U.S. Is ready for a possible surge, but local communities beg to differ.
"Our borders are already in crisis mode," said Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels. "We have to be better prepared. Active management from local, state, and federal to make sure that when we do lift Title 42, it's ;lifted at the right time. Timing's everything here."
Border Patrol agents reportedly apprehended more than 234,000 migrants at the southern border in April, the most ever recorded.
"Mentally and physically, it is exhausting because we are doing everything we can to outpace a cartel," said Sheriff Dannels.
"Title 42 needs to stay in place," said Yuma Mayor Douglas Nicholls. "There’s just no preparation sufficient enough at this point to manage that impact."
Mayor Nicholls said hundreds of people enter the area daily. He knows Title 42 had to end at some point, as the nation moves out of the pandemic, but something new needs to be put in place to combat the illegal crossing surge before it overwhelms resources and communities along the border.
"My concern is that that capacity would be exceeded, and then, they release them to the streets of Yuma," said Mayor Nicholls. "That’s the problem. That’s where we are going to end up with: some real problems with people when it’s 120 degrees or 115 degrees, without resources, without shelter, without food, without water. We’ve already had 15 deaths this year in the sector. That’s only going to increase as we get into the hot part of the year."
The Mayor of Nogales, Arturo Garino, said everyone must go through the legal asylum process, and also agrees something must be done to combat a sudden surge.
"I don’t think it should be addressed by any judge. I think this should be addressed by Congress and by the President of the United States, that they should work on immigration reform," said Mayor Garino.