Several immigrant rights groups asked a federal judge to order the Biden administration to lift Covid-19 restrictions at the border that continue to block some undocumented migrants from entering the United States to claim asylum, according to court documents filed Monday.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the Texas Civil Rights Project, Oxfam, RAICES and others had been negotiating out of court to bring an end to the policy, known as Title 42. But after the Biden administration failed to lift the restrictions by its own internal deadline of July 31, the groups went back to court to seek a preliminary injunction.
The Biden administration has been slowly allowing more and more undocumented migrant families to enter the United States, even without officially ending the policy. On Friday, for example, the Border Patrol apprehended 2,281 migrants traveling as part of families and only 142 were expelled back to Mexico under Title 42, according to Customs and Border Protection data obtained by NBC News.
For migrants traveling as single adults, 1,782 out of 2,570 were expelled, according to the data. Children traveling without their parents have not been subjected to Title 42 since the early days of the Biden administration.
Still, the groups said they want to see the policy lifted for good.
“After seven months of the administration retaining the patently illegal and inhumane Trump administration Title 42 policy, we really were left with no choice but to go back to court and seek an immediate injunction,” Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney on the lawsuit for the ACLU, said.
The Justice Department, which is representing the administration in the lawsuit, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Immigrant advocates have argued in the lawsuit that the Biden administration is keeping Title 42 in place not in order to stop the spread of Covid, as it publicly claims, but as a law enforcement tool to keep more migrants from crossing the border.
“The Biden administration knows full well that maintaining Title 42 won’t stop the spread of COVID or prevent people who are literally fleeing for their lives from seeking safety in the U.S. The administration is choosing to treat refugees like political pawns, and so we are eager to return to court so we can end Title 42 for families once and for all,” Noah Gottschalk, global policy lead for Oxfam America, said.
NBC News has previously reported that Biden administration officials have internally discussed their fears that lifting Title 42 would incentivize more migrants to come and lead to increased traffic at the border that could overwhelm the immigration system.
Already, the number of undocumented migrants stopped by U.S. border agents is at a 21-year high, according to June apprehension data from Customs and Border Protection. And because the majority of families who have recently crossed the border have not been subjected to Title 42, the agency is experiencing major overcrowding in its processing facilities The agency is now turning to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to alleviate the crowding and process migrant families in ICE detention centers.