In a major win for asylum-seekers and human rights advocates, a federal judge on Thursday ordered President Joe Biden's administration to end a Trump-era policy of using Covid-19 pandemic to justify the swift deportation of migrant families.
The Trump administration first invoked Title 42, a section of the Public Health Safety Act, early last year. Biden has faced global criticism for continuing the policy. After failed negotiations with the Biden administration, advocacy groups that had initially sued while former President Donald Trump was in office resumed their legal challenge of the expulsions last month.
"President Biden should have ended this cruel and lawless policy long ago, and the court was correct to reject it today," Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, said in a statement welcoming U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan's Thursday ruling.
In a 58-page ruling, Sullivan agreed that the Title 42 expulsions weren't supported by federal law. The judge's order, widely cheered by rights groups, is set to take effect in 14 days.
Politico noted Thursday that the Biden administration made its position on the policy clear last month:
[The] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an updated order that maintained there is still a public health justification for the Biden administration to continue kicking out migrants. The order can remain in effect indefinitely.
Sullivan's order applies only to families, meaning the Biden administration can continue to expel single adults arriving at the U.S. southern border. Unaccompanied children have been exempt from being expelled using Title 42.
The Biden administration has not only resisted pressure to end Title 42 expulsions—instead deporting hundreds of thousands of people—but also announced in July that families who couldn't be expelled under the policy would be "placed in expedited removal proceedings," which rights activists slammed as "vile."
Cecillia Wang, deputy legal director at the ACLU, pointed out Thursday that "there are so many ways the government can safely permit these families to go through the asylum process, in ways that ensure everyone's health is protected. Quarantine, testing, and vaccination."
Wang also took to Twitter to explain portions of Sullivan's decision, which she called "a beacon of hope" that "reaffirms our pride in being a nation of refuge, as Congress intended."
This is a beacon of hope. Two dear friends, a refugee from Vietnam and a refugee from Afghanistan, were in tears wa… https://t.co/LvLUyNubRu— Cecillia Wang 王德棻 (@Cecillia Wang 王德棻) 1631817409.0
The Texas-based group RAICES—which was part of the coalition challenging the "inhumane and unnecessary" Title 42 policy—similarly applauded the judge's decision.
"This is not the end of the battle against this practice," RAICES said, "but it is a major step to ensure that the U.S. welcomes these asylum-seeking families—as we should."
@ACLU We will continue to call on them to STOP following the footsteps of the Trump administration when it comes to… https://t.co/o8u7gpoa6v— RAICES (@RAICES) 1631823303.0
Sawyer Hackett, executive director of People First Future, a political action committee launched by former Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro, also celebrated the news.
"We haven't had a real asylum system for 18 months," Hackett said. "This is a huge win for human rights."