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U.S. Supreme Court extends border restrictions just before they were set to end

A U.S. Border Patrol agent instructs immigrants who had crossed the Rio Grande into El Paso, Texas on Dec. 19, as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Over the weekend, El Paso declared a state of emergency, one week after a surge of asylum seekers began crossing the border, quickly overwhelming federal immigration and city authorities.
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A U.S. Border Patrol agent instructs immigrants who had crossed the Rio Grande into El Paso, Texas on Dec. 19, as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Over the weekend, El Paso declared a state of emergency, one week after a surge of asylum seekers began crossing the border, quickly overwhelming federal immigration and city authorities.

EL PASO, Texas – The pandemic border restrictions known as Title 42 will continue, at least for now, after the U.S. Supreme court has granted an 11th-hour request by a group of Republican attorneys general from 19 states seeking to extend those restrictions.

In an order signed by Justice John Roberts, the court asked for a response from the Biden administration by 5 p.m. eastern time Tuesday.

It's a victory for those Republican attorneys general who argued that lifting the restrictions would likely cause a surge of illegal immigration at the southern border. The restrictions — first put in place by the Trump administration in March of 2020 — had been set to lift Wednesday at midnight.

The delay is another setback for immigrant advocates, who have long argued that Title 42 was intended to block access to asylum protections under the pretense of protecting public health during the worst parts of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the border city of El Paso has seen thousands of migrants arrive in recent days. In a press conference Monday night, El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser says shelters in Juarez, Mexcio are full and believes that 20,000 migrants there are waiting to cross into El Paso. Despite the stay, the city is still moving forward with emergency planning, including standing up an operations center.

In a statement Monday, the Department of Homeland Security wrote:

"As required by the Supreme Court's administrative stay order, the Title 42 public health order will remain in effect at this time and individuals who attempt to enter the United States unlawfully will continue to be expelled to Mexico." The statement then encouraged Congress to "provide the funds" DHS has requested for border security and to "advance the comprehensive immigration measures President Biden proposed on his first day in office."

Last month, Federal District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the Title 42 restrictions are unlawful and ordered the Biden administration to stop using the policy. But the judge stayed his own ruling to allow the Biden administration time to prepare.

Federal and local officials had been bracing for an influx of migrants who've been waiting in border communities from Reynosa, Mexico to Tijuana, Mexico. The Biden administration has reportedly been considering major new restrictions to asylum access, although officials insist no final decisions have been made.

When the Title 42 restrictions began more than two years ago under former President Trump, immigration authorities used the policy to quickly expel nearly all migrants they encountered — without giving them a chance to ask for asylum protection or other protections under U.S. law.

Shortly after taking office, the Biden administration exempted unaccompanied migrant children from the policy. It has also allowed many migrant families to seek asylum in the U.S. Still, the administration kept Title 42 in place for over a year, and defended it in court as necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In April of this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the Title 42 restrictions were no longer necessary to protect public health and moved to terminate the policy.

But that effort was blocked by a federal judge in Louisiana, in a separate case brought by a group of Republican attorneys general. They argued that the CDC did not go through the proper procedures to end Title 42, and should have considered the impact on state health care systems and other costs.

Since then, immigration authorities have continued to enforce the policy for single adults and some families, expelling migrants well over two million times since Biden took office.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.