A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the Biden administration to lift Trump-era asylum restrictions that have been a cornerstone of border enforcement since the beginning of COVID-19.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled in Washington that enforcement must end immediately for families and single adults, saying it violates federal rule-making procedures.
However, his ruling conflicts with another in May by a federal judge in Louisiana that asylum restrictions remain in place.
If Sullivan’s ruling stands, it would upend border enforcement. Migrants have been expelled from the United States more than 2.4 million times since the regulation took effect in March 2020, denying migrants rights to seek asylum under U.S. and international law on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
The regulation was authorized under Title 42 of a broader law covering public health.
The rule has been unevenly enforced by nationality, falling mostly on migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — in addition to Mexicans — because Mexico allows them to stay within its borders. Last month, Mexico began accepting Venezuelans who are expelled from the United States under Title 42, causing a sharp drop in Venezuelans seeking asylum at the U.S. border.
The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of asylum-seeking migrants. ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said Sullivan’s decision renders the Louisiana ruling moot.
“This is an enormous victory for desperate asylum seekers who have been barred from even getting a hearing because of the misuse of public laws,” Gelernt said. “This ruling hopefully puts an end to this horrendous period in U.S. history in which we abandoned our solemn commitment to provide refuge to those facing persecution.”
The Homeland Security Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.