Supreme Court keeps pandemic-era limits on immigration in place indefinitely, dashing hopes of immigration advocates who had been expecting their end this week.

The limits on migrant arrival were put in place under then-president Donald Trump at the beginning of the pandemic.
The limits on migrant arrival were put in place under then-president Donald Trump at the beginning of the pandemic. (AP Archive)

The US Supreme Court has ruled that a pandemic-era measure used since 2020 to block hundreds of thousands of migrants from entering the country should remain in place.

The 5-4 court ruling accepted, at least temporarily on Tuesday, a petition from 19 states who said they would be swamped with migrants if the Title 42 policy is lifted and the border opens up.

Under the court's order, the case will be argued in February and the stay will be maintained until the justices decide the case.

"We are deeply disappointed for all the desperate asylum seekers who will continue to suffer because of Title 42, but we will continue fighting to eventually end the policy," said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which had been arguing to end Title 42's use.

Meanwhile, the White House urged "comprehensive" reforms to the US immigration system after the Supreme Court kept in place a disputed measure used to block migrants and asylum seekers at the tense Mexico border.

"To truly fix our broken immigration system, we need Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform measures," President Joe Biden's press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said in a statement.

The limits were put in place under then-president Donald Trump at the beginning of the pandemic.

The Supreme Court's decision comes as thousands of migrants have gathered on the Mexican side of the border, filling shelters and worrying advocates who are scrambling to figure out how to care for them.

READ MORE: Desperate migrants throng US-Mexico border amid asylum limbo

'Unlawful restriction'

Under the restrictions, officials have expelled asylum-seekers inside the United States 2.5 million times and turned away most people who requested asylum at the border on the grounds of preventing the spread of Covid-19. 

Immigration advocates sued to end the use of Title 42.

They said the policy goes against American and international obligations to people fleeing to the US to escape persecution.

They've also argued that the policy is outdated as coronavirus treatments improve.

US District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington, DC, sided with the migrants on November 15 and ruled Title 42, which has been used to expel hundreds of thousands of people since its inception, was unlawful.

Sullivan, an appointee of Democratic former president Bill Clinton, said the government failed to show the risk of migrants spreading Covid-19 was "a real problem."

He said the government also failed to weigh the harm asylum seekers would face from the Title 42 order.

The Biden administration sought time to prepare for the end of the policy, at which point migrants would be able to once again, as they had pre-pandemic, be allowed to request asylum at the border.

Unhappy with the lower court's decision, a group of Republican state attorneys general sought to intervene to keep defending the policy in court.

When a federal appeals court on December 16 declined to allow them to intervene and put Sullivan's order on hold, they took the matter to the US Supreme Court.

READ MORE: US city declares state of emergency over migrant influx from Mexico

Source: TRTWorld and agencies