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Supreme Court allows border restrictions known as Title 42 to continue for now

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Trump-era border policy known as Title 42 will remain in place for now.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The statute, enacted at the height of the COVID pandemic, allows immigration authorities to turn migrants back without a chance to claim asylum. Immigration advocates say it denies them human rights protections. Lee Gelernt is with the ACLU and an attorney on the case.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEE GELERNT: What the CDC said is there is no longer a public health justification, and the statute on which they were relying allows them only to stop people at the border if there's a public health justification. It cannot be used as a border management tool.

FADEL: For more on what this means, we're joined by Hamed Aleaziz, immigration policy reporter with the LA Times.

Good morning.

HAMED ALEAZIZ: Good morning.

FADEL: So what does this ruling mean in practical terms?

ALEAZIZ: Yeah, it means that the status quo at the border remains. This policy that's been in place for almost three years now continues. And migrants who had been waiting at the border in Mexico for a chance to seek asylum will have to wait longer.

FADEL: And if you could just break down for those hoping to seek asylum what that means - they just sit at the border?

ALEAZIZ: Yeah, well, it's complicated. For certain populations, their chances of asylum were lower under Title 42. Central Americans, for example, have been turned back at the border at high levels. Venezuelans have been turned back to Mexico in recent months. For these groups, seeking asylum has been incredibly difficult.

FADEL: How did this end up before the Supreme Court?

ALEAZIZ: Well, a federal judge in November ruled that the policy was arbitrary and capricious, and he ordered the government to undo Title 42 within five weeks, which was Dec. 21. And a group of 19 GOP states tried to intervene in this case, and they asked for a stay with the Supreme Court, hoping to pause this policy while they hope to intervene in the case. And now the Supreme Court's going to be taking those arguments in February.

FADEL: And how does the court's decision now affect the Biden administration immigration policy overall?

ALEAZIZ: It means that they just continue to have to use Title 42. Earlier this year, they tried to actually undo Title 42, but a judge in Louisiana said that the way that they had gone about trying to undo Title 42 was illegal and blocked them from doing that. And they had to continue Title 42, the use of it. They actually expanded it, as I mentioned previously, by using it on Venezuelans, to turn back Venezuelans to Mexico. So the administration now has to continue using this Trump-era policy for the time being, potentially into the summer.

FADEL: So it's not something they can just decide not to implement.

ALEAZIZ: Not at this point, no. they are bound by that order by the federal court judge in Louisiana, forcing them to continue using Title 42. That case is winding its way through the Fifth Circuit. There are so many twists and turns with this policy at the border. It's incredibly confusing, and there's lack of clarity at times, which is, I think, incredibly distressing to the folks in the government and I'm sure to migrants across the border.

FADEL: Hamed Aleaziz is an immigration policy reporter with the LA Times. Thank you so much for your time.

ALEAZIZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.