The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday declined to block a lower court order lifting Covid restrictions for asylum seekers at the southern border by Wednesday.
Attorneys general from 19 Republican-led states had asked the appeals court to temporarily prevent the end of restrictions known as Title 42. They are likely to appeal Friday's ruling to the Supreme Court.
The GOP officials initially sued to keep Title 42 in place, arguing that lifting it would burden their states and that they should have been given a say in the decision to end it.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan earlier ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's implementation of Title 42 was “arbitrary and capricious,” saying the Biden administration should return to allowing all migrants to request asylum at the border as they had been allowed to do prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement responding to the appeals court decision, White House spokesperson Abdullah Hasan said the administration had a "robust effort underway" to safely manage the border when Title 42 ends.
“To be clear: the lifting of the Title 42 public health order does not mean the border is open," Hasan said. "We will continue to fully enforce our immigration laws and work to expand legal pathways for migration while discouraging disorderly and unsafe migration."
Since Title 42 was enacted in March 2020 by the Trump administration, migrants have been sent back to Mexico 2.4 million times.
Many nationalities and demographics have been exempted from the policy, including children traveling unaccompanied and some nationalities whose countries refuse to repatriate them, such as Cuba, Nicaragua and, until recently, Venezuela.
Although border crossings are already at record highs, more than half of the 1 million-plus migrants who crossed the border in fiscal 2022 were returned to Mexico. If Title 42 is lifted as planned, those migrants would be allowed to claim asylum in the U.S., where they could be waiting for years for a court date if they pass their initial interview with authorities.
Some local officials in border towns have said they need more support from the federal government to deal with the existing surge and what's expected to be a much larger one in the absence of Title 42.
Opponents of the policy praised the court’s ruling on Friday.
“Title 42 must end because it it is a public health law, not a border management tool,” said Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union suing to lift Title 42, in a statement.
“The states seeking to keep Title 42 are acting hypocritically, to say the least, since they have opposed every COVID restriction except the one targeting vulnerable asylum seekers.”