The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Tuesday to keep the pandemic-era limit on immigration, referred to as Title 42, in place indefinitely, which allows officials to turn away migrants at the border to prevent the spread of COVID.
Customs and Border Protection officials warned lawmakers that approximately 50,000 foreigners were waiting to cross into the United States once Title 42 ended. However, according to The Associated Press, an order from Chief Justice John Roberts stayed a lower court’s ruling, which justices extended to give the court time to consider both sides’ arguments.
Justice Neil Gorsuch the only dissenting conservative justice to join all of the Supreme Court’s liberal justices in Tuesday’s ruling said “the current border crisis is not a COVID crisis.”
“And courts should not be in the business of perpetuating administrative edicts designed for one emergency only because elected officials have failed to address a different emergency,” he wrote, according to KTLA. “We are a court of law, not policymakers of last resort.”
The statute, which gives commanders-in-chief the power to shut down immigration as an emergency action to keep communicable diseases out of the United States, was last used by former President Donald Trump in reaction to the COVID outbreak. Families seeking asylum had filed a lawsuit, which led Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to order the Biden administration to lift Title 42 by Wednesday.
Sullivan said in his November ruling that the use of Title 42 to stop migrants from entering the United States for asylum is an “arbitrary” use of the law.
“It is unreasonable for the CDC to assume that it can ignore the consequences of any actions it chooses to take in the pursuit of fulfilling its goals, particularly when those actions included the extraordinary decision to suspend the codified procedural and substantive rights of non-citizens seeking safe harbor,” he wrote.
According to The Associated Press, immigration advocates sued to end Title 42, arguing that the policy is outdated — as COVID treatments have improved — and that it “goes against American and international obligations to people fleeing to the U.S. to escape persecution.”
Federal officials said ending the restrictions would likely lead to “disruption and a temporary increase in unlawful border crossings.” However, they still asked the nation’s highest court to reject the request from 19 Republican state attorneys general to maintain the policy.
Leaders in border cities had been bracing for an influx of immigrants. Oscar Leeser, the Democratic mayor of El Paso, Texas, declared a state of emergency on Saturday in anticipation of the end of Title 42. “Our asylum seekers are not safe,” the official said at a press conference. “We have hundreds and hundreds on the street and that’s not the way we treat our people.”
More than 80,000 migrants have entered El Paso in the last four months; approximately 678,000 people currently reside in the city, where temperatures can drop below freezing during winter nights. Leeser did not rule out the option of using a nearby military base to temporarily house migrants, adding that officials were discussing options with state and federal authorities.
The Department of Homeland Security previously vowed to continue enforcing Title 42 until the policy ended. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said last week that the agency would “process individuals encountered at the border without proper travel documents using its longstanding Title 8 authorities, which provide for meaningful consequences, including barring individuals who are removed from re-entry for five years.”
Ben Zeisloft and Dillon Burroughs contributed to this report.