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Court sides with Biden administration, preserves Covid limits on asylum-seekers for now

Hearings on Title 42, a health law being used to turn away migrants at the border, are scheduled for January.
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WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court sided with the Biden administration late Thursday in a ruling that will allow the Department of Homeland Security to continue to impose Covid restrictions that have blocked the majority of asylum-seekers from entering the U.S. this year.

The policy, known as Title 42, had been due to be lifted Thursday in accordance with a lower court order, but the administration appealed the decision.

The Trump administration had invoked Title 42, a rarely used clause of public health law, to turn immigrants away at the U.S.-Mexico border. The Biden administration had kept the policy in place, but a U.S. district judge ruled this month that the law did not provide the authority to block asylum-seekers from entering.

Planning to lift Title 42, DHS officials had been preparing for a historic border surge of as many as 400,000 migrants in a single month, concerned that the new policy would spur even more migrants to come.

In its order, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which said it was granting the Biden administration's request for an emergency stay, scheduled oral arguments for January.

Immigration advocates who have sued the administration to end the policy say it is an enforcement measure disguised as a public health order.

"If the Biden administration really wants to treat asylum-seekers humanely, it should end this lawless policy now and withdraw its appeal. We will continue to fight to end this illegal policy," said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who is the lead attorney in the suit.

Noah Gottschalk, global policy lead for Oxfam America, which is also suing, said: "It's troubling to see the court grant the government's motion to reinstate Title 42 just days after the district court ruled that its policy violates U.S. law. We all saw the horrific images of the abuse faced by Haitian asylum-seekers subjected to Title 42, and we cannot allow people to face further harm because of this xenophobic policy."

In recent weeks, the arrival of more than 25,000 Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas, took DHS by surprise and pushed border agents into the role of crowd control. Images of government agents on horseback trying to stop Haitians from crossing the river drew sharp public criticism and led to an internal investigation.