In a major win for asylum-seekers and human rights advocates, a federal judge on Thursday ordered President Joe Biden’s administration to end a Trump-era policy of using Covid-19 pandemic to justify the swift deportation of migrant families.
The Trump administration first invoked Title 42, a section of the Public Health Safety Act, early last year. Biden has faced global criticism for continuing the policy. After failed negotiations with the Biden administration, advocacy groups that had initially sued while former President Donald Trump was in office resumed their legal challenge to the expulsions last month.
“President Biden should have ended this cruel and lawless policy long ago, and the court was correct to reject it today,” Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement welcoming U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan’s Thursday ruling.
In a 58-page ruling, Sullivan agreed that the Title 42 expulsions weren’t supported by federal law. The judge’s order, widely cheered by rights groups, is set to take effect in 14 days.
Politico noted Thursday that the Biden administration made its position on the policy clear last month:
[The] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an updated order that maintained there is still a public health justification for the Biden administration to continue kicking out migrants. The order can remain in effect indefinitely.
Sullivan’s order applies only to families, meaning the Biden administration can continue to expel single adults arriving at the U.S. southern border. Unaccompanied children have been exempt from being expelled using Title 42.
The Biden administration has not only resisted pressure to end Title 42 expulsions — and deported hundreds of thousands of people — but also announced in July that families who couldn’t be expelled under the policy would be “placed in expedited removal proceedings,” which rights activists slammed as “vile.”
Cecillia Wang, deputy legal director at the ACLU, pointed out Thursday that “there are so many ways the government can safely permit these families to go through the asylum process, in ways that ensure everyone’s health is protected. Quarantine, testing, and vaccination.”
Wang also took to Twitter to explain portions of Sullivan’s decision, which she called “a beacon of hope” that “reaffirms our pride in being a nation of refuge, as Congress intended.”
This is a beacon of hope. Two dear friends, a refugee from Vietnam and a refugee from Afghanistan, were in tears watching events in Afghanistan unfold. May our country uphold its duty and a main source of our national strength by always welcoming those seeking freedom and safety.
— Cecillia Wang 王德棻 (@WangCecillia) September 16, 2021
The Texas-based group RAICES — which was part of the coalition challenging the “inhumane and unnecessary” Title 42 policy — similarly applauded the judge’s decision.
“This is not the end of the battle against this practice,” RAICES said, “but it is a major step to ensure that the U.S. welcomes these asylum-seeking families — as we should.”
We will continue to call on them to STOP following the footsteps of the Trump administration when it comes to asylum, and end Title 42 immediately.
— RAICES (@RAICESTEXAS) September 16, 2021
Sawyer Hackett, executive director of People First Future, a political action committee launched by former Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro, also celebrated the news.
“We haven’t had a real asylum system for 18 months,” Hackett said. “This is a huge win for human rights.”
Refugees International U.S. senior advocate Yael Schacher shared some of the recent consequences of the Biden administration sending asylum-seekers to Mexico and other countries:
On a visit to Reynosa last month, I met a pregnant Honduran woman who was expelled under Title 42 and separated from her husband and son in Houston. Another Honduran woman I met had been raped since being expelled. Others in Reynosa, including a man I met from Tigray, have been waiting for months for a chance to seek asylum at the port of entry.
Building back better means creating a system whereby all asylum-seekers — children, families, and adults — are given a chance to seek protection rather than be returned to danger.
Schacher said Biden should accept Thursday’s ruling, issue a new termination memo for the Remain in Mexico policy, reopen ports to asylum-seekers, and “implement a fair system different from that of the previous administration.”
This post has been updated with comment from Refugees International.