Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. on Monday ordered the Biden administration to keep the Title 42 border-expulsion policy in place while the Supreme Court decides whether to intervene in the ongoing legal battle.
The order came a little more than a day before Title 42 was slated to end. It delivered a last-minute reprieve to Republican-led states that say President Biden is orchestrating a historic breakdown at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Chief Justice Roberts did not put a timeline on his reprieve, but gave the Biden administration until Tuesday afternoon to reply to the GOP states’ case. The policy allows the government to quickly expel migrants at the border during a public health emergency, in this case the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The fight to keep Title 42 in place continues,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, one of the 19 states that sought to preserve the policy.
The high-stakes legal maneuvering comes at a tense time.
Migrants have reportedly massed in Mexico awaiting the end of Title 42, which they believe will give them more leeway to jump the border, make asylum claims, and get quickly released into the U.S.
SEE ALSO: Migrants depend on Catholic Charities to avoid deportation
That could send already record-high rates of border activity, with roughly 7,000 illegal crossings a day, doubling to 14,000.
The Biden administration has said it has a plan for dealing with any increase, but few are buying that.
Over the weekend key Democratic officials sounded alarms.
New York Mayor Eric Adams warned over the weekend that his city could see 1,000 new arrivals from the border each week.
He said that would stress the city’s already overloaded housing and other services.
“Our shelter system is full, and we are nearly out of money, staff and space,” the mayor said. “Truth be told, if corrective measures are not taken soon, we may very well be forced to cut or curtail programs New Yorkers rely on, and the pathway to house thousands more is uncertain.”
SEE ALSO: Biden hails ‘progress’ with Ecuador’s Guillermo Lasso despite failing to rein in flow of immigrants
He begged the federal government to send money.
In El Paso, Texas, Mayor Oscar Leeser declared a state of emergency on Saturday, saying it was needed to tap state funds to open more shelters and bring in more food for thousands of migrants camped out on city streets.
Mr. Leeser had resisted the emergency declaration, because of worries about what GOP state leaders might do. But he said he was left with no choice after temperatures dipped below freezing and threatened the migrants living on the streets.
The El Paso Times reported that the city expects up to 6,000 migrants a day once Title 42 ends. By contrast, during some months of the Trump administration, the Border Patrol caught just 12,000 migrants nationwide in an entire month.
“We want to make sure we’re prepared for that and we can react to that, so this is just the next step to make sure we’re prepared,” Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino said, according to the newspaper.
At the White House, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre lay blame for the border chaos on smugglers who she said spread “misinformation” to gin up interest among migrants.
She also blamed Republicans in Congress, who she said are standing in the way of approving billions of dollars in new spending to speed up the catch-and-release of the new arrivals.
“If Republicans in Congress are serious about protecting the border, if they are serious about securing the border, if they are serious about the challenges that we’re currently seeing that they should be able to get involved here and make sure that the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security have the resources they need,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said. “They are going to need to do their jobs.”
As for the legal case, she said Mr. Biden’s hands were tied by the courts.
She pointed back to District Judge Emmet Sullivan’s ruling last month that Title 42 was dubious at the start but has become legally indefensible this deep into the COVID-19 pandemic.
He had ordered the program halted immediately, but reluctantly acceded to the Biden administration’s request for a five-week delay in winding down the policy. That grace period was supposed to end Tuesday.
Immigrant-rights activists say the end can’t come fast enough.
They say Title 42 is cruel to migrants, preventing them from making claims of protection such as requests for asylum, and they urged Mr. Biden to follow through on ending the policy.
“What we need is a surge of humanity. For refugees and migrants in Mexico — and everywhere — to be treated as human beings, with dignity and compassion,” said Avril Benoit, executive director of Doctors Without Borders-USA.
After Chief Justice Roberts’ order, immigration groups fretted over the delay.
“It is deeply regrettable that the Supreme Court has delayed the restoration of longstanding asylum law,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
She demanded the Biden administration stick to its plans to end Title 42.
The GOP-led states, meanwhile, said Mr. Biden was “colluding” with the immigration groups, which they said justifies their late entry into the case.
As an example of the weak defense the administration mounted, the GOP states said the Justice Department accepted arguments in this case over vacating policies and issuing nationwide injunctions, even as the administration fights against those same remedies in other cases where it would be forced to embrace get-tough policies on immigration.
“Getting rid of Title 42 will recklessly and needlessly endanger more Americans and migrants by exacerbating the catastrophe that is occurring at our southern border,” said Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who is leading the case for the GOP states.