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Biden administration appeals order to stop expelling migrants under health law

Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times

The Biden administration is appealing a federal court ruling that halts the use of a public health order to quickly expel migrants with children who are stopped along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a filing Friday, administration lawyers announced their decision to bring the case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan on Thursday had given the government two weeks to stop its use of Title 42, a 1944 health statute used originally by the Trump administration to close the border to "prohibit ... the introduction of" people to the country because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

The case focuses on families with children, meaning the administration can continue to expel single adults under the provision.

After Sullivan's ruling, advocates were hopeful that government officials would choose to rescind the policy.

"It's extremely disappointing that the Biden administration is willing to fight tooth and nail to uphold President Trump's xenophobic immigration policies," said Noah Gottschalk, Global Policy Lead for Oxfam America, which is among the groups challenging Title 42. "Despite this appeal, we know the law is on our side and we will keep fighting with our co-counsel on behalf of refugees."

Sullivan granted a preliminary injunction in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups on behalf of migrant families, deciding they were likely to succeed on their challenge to the use of Title 42. He delayed the effects of the order for two weeks to give the administration time to appeal.

In his 58-page ruling, Sullivan said the the statute doesn't permit the expulsion of people who have already entered the country. He found that migrant families subjected to the policy are deprived of statutory rights to seek protection in the U.S. and "face real threats of violence and persecution."

In recent months, Mexico has accepted fewer migrant families with children, and the U.S. has allowed more to stay in the country as they pursue asylum.

Among the 86,000 migrant parents who crossed the border with their children last month, roughly 16,000 were immediately expelled, according to government statistics.

Customs and Border Protection said that one quarter of the 209,000 people it encountered in August had been stopped at least once over the previous year, compared with 14% in earlier years.

The ACLU and other advocacy groups launched their legal challenge to Title 42 in January, just before Trump left office. They spent months in settlement negotiations with the Biden administration but resumed the litigation after federal officials signaled they had no immediate plans to rescind the policy.

"We wanted the Biden administration to do the right thing in January," Gottschalk said. "This all could've been avoided."

Last year, Sullivan used similar reasoning to block the Trump administration from using Title 42 to expel unaccompanied children in response to a different ACLU lawsuit.

In January, the D.C. circuit court agreed to temporarily lift the lower court's decision, but the Biden administration later decided to exempt children who arrive without a parent from Title 42.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times .

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