Pro-migrant groups frustrated with President Joe Biden's continued use of a Trump-era expulsion policy for migrants at the southern border are reportedly reviving a lawsuit challenging the use of a public health authority to block asylum seekers due to COVID-19.
The suit was filed against the Trump administration, and the ACLU agreed to stall it when Biden was sworn into office, The Hill reported.
But the group is restarting litigation over Biden's use of the so-called Title 42 order that lets U.S. officials send migrants back to Mexico without the chance to seek asylum or other protections in the United States.
“We gave the Biden administration more than enough time to fix any problems left behind by the Trump administration, but it has left us no choice but to return to court. Families’ lives are at stake,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney on the case, said in a release, The Hill reported.
The outcome could complicate the Biden administration's efforts to deal with a 20-year high in migrant arrests at the southern border and puts increased pressure on the Biden administration to draft a replacement policy.
Biden administration officials have for months defended their use of Title 42, even as the administration has suggested it may lift the policy in phases.
The government exempts children and some families from Title 42 but it is still widely used to expel single adults who seek to cross the border, The Hill reported.
In May, the Biden administration used Title 42 to expel more than 112,000 migrants at the southern border, nearly two-thirds of the 180,000 people who attempted to cross, the news outlet noted.
“ICE is concerned that the loss of Title 42 could create additional pressure on our immigration system,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting director Tae Johnson told lawmakers in May, referring to the ACLU's suit.
He called the rule “critical” to maintaining social distance in border facilities.
“I don’t think it’s a situation where it’s going to just be lifted electively. We would be mandated by some sort of court order to lift it,” he added later.
In a statement, the pro-migrant groups called the Title 42 policy "inhumane" and "illegal" and said the Biden administration left them no choice but to resume a legal fight over the order that had been put on pause in February for negotiations.
"The administration is choosing to treat refugees like political pawns, and so we are eager to return to court so we can end Title 42 for families once and for all," said Noah Gottschalk, global policy lead for Oxfam America, one of the groups involved in the litigation, Reuters reported.
The White House has said Title 42 is necessary to help curb the spread of COVID-19. But many public healthcare experts have challenged that, saying there’s no scientific data to support that rationale, Reuters reported.
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