WASHINGTON – Chief Justice John Roberts on Monday temporarily blocked the Biden administration from ending the pandemic-era Title 42 immigration policy, leaving in doubt whether officials will continue to expel migrants out of concerns about public health risks.
The decision was the result of the short fuse lit by 19 conservative states that filed an emergency appeal at the Supreme Court on Monday. The states asked the justices to block a lower court ruling requiring President Joe Biden to end the Title 42 expulsions by midnight.
Roberts ordered the Biden administration to respond to the appeal from the states by 5 p.m. EST Tuesday, a rapid turnaround by Supreme Court standards.
Though the move may pause what many feared would be a new influx of migrants on the southern border, it doesn’t necessarily signal which way the high court is leaning on the broader questions about the policy. Roberts, or the court, will likely issue another order in a matter of days.
Title 42 permits Customs and Border Protection to expel migrants without the usual legal review to Mexico or to their home countries to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in holding facilities. The Biden administration announced in April that it intended to wind down the policy.
In November, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington, D.C., said the policy’s implementation violated federal law and gave the Biden administration until Wednesday to end it. Nineteen conservative states, including Texas and Arizona, are trying to intervene and block Sullivan’s decision. The states lost in a federal appeals court on Friday, and, on Monday, they had taken their request up to the Supreme Court.
Title 42 has been used to expel migrants more than 2.4million times since its implementation in 2020 and has bottled up tens of thousands of migrants in Mexican border cities who are waiting to request asylum in the United States. Immigration experts say that once the measure is lifted, it could trigger a sudden surge in asylum-seeking migrants being released in communities in border states.
A separate ruling from a federal judge in Louisiana in May blocked Biden’s plan to terminate Title 42. That case is being reviewed by the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.