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Federal judge blocks the pandemic border restrictions known as Title 42

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A federal judge has blocked the pandemic border restrictions known as Title 42. Now, those restrictions allowed immigration authorities to quickly expel migrants who cross the border illegally without giving them a chance to seek asylum. And this ruling could have major implications for immigration policy on the southern border at a time when migrant apprehensions are already at a record high.

NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration and joins us now. Hey, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK. So what does this judge's ruling say exactly?

ROSE: Yeah. Federal Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington, D.C., vacated the policy known as Title 42 full-stop. In his ruling, Sullivan found the policy arbitrary and capricious. He said it was OK for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to try to stop the spread of COVID-19. But Sullivan ruled that the CDC should have considered less drastic alternatives than expelling migrants back to Mexico and that the CDC failed to consider the possible harms to those migrants. He also found the policy did not serve its stated purpose because millions of other travelers were allowed into the U.S., while, you know, a relatively small number of migrants were expelled.

CHANG: Well, true. Well, what's been the reaction so far to this decision?

ROSE: Immigrant advocates are elated. They've been arguing that Title 42 was illegal since it was first put in place during the Trump administration now more than two years ago. I spoke to Lee Gelernt with the ACLU, who has been leading this litigation.

LEE GELERNT: We are enormously pleased with this ruling. We are optimistic that this will finally be the end. We do not see how the public health laws can continue to be misused when the entire country has now been open and the president has said that we are beyond the pandemic.

CHANG: So, Joel, what do you think the implications will be for border policy because of this?

ROSE: They are enormous. I mean, as you said, migrant apprehensions were already at a record high last year. And Title 42 has been a major border management tool for the Biden administration. In October alone, there were more than 78,000 expulsions under Title 42. Last year the number was more than 1 million. You know, and just today Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was being berated by House Republicans because of the high apprehensions. So it would not be surprising to see the Biden administration appeal this ruling to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals or at least to ask the judge for more time to figure out how to prepare to lift Title 42. But, you know, there's no guarantee that request would be granted. Judge Sullivan said in his order that any request for a stay would be denied.

CHANG: Wow. I mean, we should remind people that the Biden administration was trying to end Title 42 back in the spring. Where does this ruling leave those efforts now? Are they just over?

ROSE: Yeah. I mean, this leaves the Biden administration in a tough spot. This is officially what they have said they want - right? - even though they were blocked from ending Title 42 earlier this year by a judge in Louisiana. But this ruling now supersedes that one because it has struck down the underlying Title 42 policy. And now the Biden administration may really have to move on from Title 42. But it's a really fraught moment. I mean, the border apprehensions are already high, and the political stakes are high as well.

CHANG: That is NPR's Joel Rose. Thank you so much, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.