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Judge blocks Biden from ending Trump-era Covid restrictions for migrants at border

U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays said Biden administration officials cannot take steps to lift the pandemic-era border restrictions known as Title 42.

A federal judge Friday blocked the Biden administration from ending a Trump-era policy that severely limits asylum seekers from entering the U.S. due to the pandemic.

The order comes just weeks after Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced that families and single adult asylum seekers who had been turned away at the U.S.-Mexico border would have the opportunity to enter the U.S. and make an asylum claim starting May 23, in light of a new assessment on Covid restrictions by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays of the Western District of Louisiana said Biden administration officials cannot begin lifting the health order known as Title 42, which has blocked more than 1.8 million attempts to cross the border since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

Summerhays, a Trump appointee, also directed the Department of Homeland Security to file monthly reports on border crossings, as well as "any material changes to policy regarding DHS's application of the Title 42 process."

The agency said it will comply with the judge's order.

The court ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by Missouri, Louisiana and Arizona in opposition to the CDC’s order lifting Title 42 restrictions. Other states signed on and requested the judge grant a preliminary injunction.

Summerhays on Friday said the injunction will stay in place until there’s a full trial and ruling on the merits of the case.

The White House said the Justice Department plans to appeal.

“The authority to set public health policy nationally should rest with the Centers for Disease Control, not with a single district court,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

"As the appeal proceeds," she added, "the Department of Homeland Security will continue planning for the eventual lifting of Title 42 in light of CDC’s public health judgment."

The continuation of Title 42 marks another setback for the administration. At the same time, it gives officials more time to prepare for what’s expected to be a surge in border crossings if the policy is rolled back.

According to internal planning documents reviewed by NBC News this week, senior Homeland Security officials are concerned they will not have enough funding and resources to cover the recording-breaking number of migrants at the southern border, especially as the CDC prepares to lift Title 42. As a result, officials are pushing the administration to ask Congress for a supplemental spending bill, the documents showed.

The Biden administration has faced criticism on both sides of the aisle for its handling of Title 42, which was first implemented in March 2020. Republicans are widely opposed to ending the policy, and several centrist Democrats, including Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Jon Tester of Montana, have also questioned whether the administration is ready for the predicted increase in asylum seekers.

"The federal court's ruling to block the Biden administration's termination of Title 42 is a win for our homeland security, Border Patrol agents, and the safety of Americans," Rep. John Katko of New York, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement. "The Biden administration has been defined by the crises it creates and then fails miserably to address. And the Biden border crisis tops that list."