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A federal judge rules that pandemic border restrictions must continue

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some of today's news is what is not happening. The United States is not lifting pandemic restrictions at the border today. President Biden intended to lift the rules imposed by President Trump under a bit of law known as Title 42. A judge blocked Biden's move, likely to the relief of some Democratic senators who said the United States wasn't ready to receive all the people who would abruptly try to cross. NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration, and he's on the line. Joel, good morning.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What was the judge's basis for blocking the lifting of these restrictions?

ROSE: Right. Well, this ruling came down late on Friday, granting preliminary injunction and requiring the Biden administration, as you say, to continue this policy known as Title 42, which allows immigration authorities to quickly expel migrants without giving them a chance to seek asylum. More than 20 states had signed on to this lawsuit that was brought by Arizona and Missouri and Louisiana. They argue that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not go through the proper procedure to end Title 42, that it should have taken public comment and considered the impact on state health care systems and other costs that could come with a possible influx of migrants when Title 42 ends.

INSKEEP: Well, what happens now, then, if that's a preliminary injunction?

ROSE: Well, so the Biden administration goes back to court. The Justice Department lawyers argued that the CDC was within its authority when it decided to end this policy because it was no longer needed, according to the CDC, to protect public health. The Justice Department says it will appeal the judge's decision, although it's not clear yet if that's going to include the administration seeking an emergency stay that would block the injunction quickly while this appeal is happening. Ultimately, the CDC may have to try again to lift Title 42 in a way that could pass muster with the courts. You know, but all of this is going to take months, possibly many months.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the practical effect, then. The reason this was so heavily debated was that many people were waiting to cross the border. It was presumed by all parties, including the Biden administration, that a lot of people would try to cross the border. Now they can't, so what's that mean for people waiting?

ROSE: It means even more waiting, right? I mean, there are tens of thousands of migrants who are estimated to be waiting in Mexico. They fled from violence and poverty in Central America and, you know, all over the world. And they've been staying in sometimes dangerous Mexican border towns, you know, just trying to get by, waiting for a chance to seek asylum in the U.S.

There is one small cause for optimism for those migrants today, and that is a ruling, actually, in a different court case about the same border policies. Back in March, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Biden administration could expel migrant families, but it cannot send them back to places where they could be persecuted or tortured. Here's Lee Gelernt from the ACLU, which brought that lawsuit in D.C.

LEE GELERNT: The D.C. Circuit was adamant that no family may be sent back to persecution or torture, and there must be an adequate screening process.

ROSE: It's not clear yet exactly how this is going to work in practice when that order takes effect today, but it could look something like the status quo. Unaccompanied children and some migrant families will get a chance to seek asylum, while a lot of other migrants will be turned back.

INSKEEP: So what happens when that status quo gets extended more weeks, more months, maybe years?

ROSE: Immigrant advocates are worried, you know, about what this means for the future of asylum protections at the border. Title 42 is officially a public health order, but at this point, most Republicans and even some Democrats are talking about it as a border management tool. You know, and at a time when apprehensions are already near record highs, public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans support keeping Title 42 in place. Some Democrats in tight races may be relieved that the court has stepped in here to extend Title 42. But immigrant advocates are worried that the longer this stays in place, the harder it may be to get rid of it.

INSKEEP: NPR's Joel Rose, thanks so much.

ROSE: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.