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Pandemic border restrictions known as Title 42 may not end this week as planned

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The pandemic border restrictions known as Title 42 may not end this week as planned. The U.S. Supreme Court has granted an 11th-hour request by a group of Republican attorneys general who want to extend those restrictions. The high court put a temporary hold on a lower court ruling that found Title 42 unlawful. And it's happening as the number of migrants crossing the southern border has been climbing, putting pressure on local communities.

NPR's Joel Rose is following all this and joins us now from El Paso. Hey.... there.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey.

SUMMERS: So, Joel, remind us, what is Title 42 and why was it set to end this week?

ROSE: Sure. These are the pandemic-era restrictions put in place originally by the Trump administration that allow immigration authorities to quickly expel migrants at the border without giving them a chance to seek asylum. After a lengthy legal fight, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., declared the policy illegal because it denies migrants a chance to seek protection in the U.S. and ordered the Biden administration to end it. That is scheduled to - was scheduled to happen in just a few days - excuse me - on Wednesday. But a group of Republican attorneys general from 19 states have been seeking to extend Title 42. They've taken their appeal all the way to the Supreme Court, which has now put that ruling on hold, at least temporarily.

SUMMERS: So, Joel, tell us, what does the Supreme Court order say exactly?

ROSE: It's very brief, you know, just one page from Chief Justice John Roberts. And it says that the lower court ruling is stayed for the moment. It asks the Justice Department and other parties in the case for a response by 5 p.m. Tuesday. That's not a long time. It suggests that the chief justice wants to move quickly here to decide whether to extend Title 42 for a longer time, possibly until the entire appeal is resolved, which is what the states would like, or allow the restrictions to end sometime sooner.

SUMMERS: OK. And just tell us, what does this mean in practical terms?

ROSE: Well, it almost certainly means the Title 42 restrictions will not end on Wednesday as scheduled, although I guess technically that's still possible. Beyond that, it's hard to say with certainty. We've already seen a significant spike in the number of migrants crossing the border. This Supreme Court stay likely won't, you know, change anything for migrants who are already on their way to the border.

In places like El Paso where I am, thousands of migrants have been crossing the border in recent days in anticipation of Title 42 ending. The mayor here declared a state of emergency, with shelters overflowing and some migrants sleeping on the streets. The city's now standing up several mass shelters to respond to what they're calling a crisis. Communities up and down the border have also been preparing for a possible influx of migrants whenever Title 42 does end. You know, and it's not just the border. Cities around the country are also preparing for big numbers of migrants to arrive, including New York, which has been a major destination for migrants arriving this year.

SUMMERS: And, Joel, the White House - what has the Biden administration been doing in response?

ROSE: The administration has asked for upwards of $3 billion in emergency funding to deal with the border. And it's also reported to be weighing some major changes to the asylum system that would restrict who can apply for asylum at the border while trying to encourage migrants to apply for asylum from outside the U.S. and not to cross the border illegally. But administration officials have not made any formal announcements yet about what they are planning. You know, and this situation with the Supreme Court is likely to further push back any announcement on those changes, you know, at least until we get more clarity about what is next with Title 42.

SUMMERS: NPR's Joel Rose reporting from El Paso. Joel, thank you so much.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.