The ruling is a major victory for rights groups who have been campaigning against Title 42 rules, which, under the garb of preventing the spread of Covid-19, led to the expulsion of asylum seekers without a hearing.

People talk under tarps at a migrant camp near the El Chaparral border crossing with the US, in Tijuana, Mexico on August 26, 2021.
People talk under tarps at a migrant camp near the El Chaparral border crossing with the US, in Tijuana, Mexico on August 26, 2021. (Jorge Duenes / Reuters)

A US federal court ruled on Thursday that Covid-19 public health measures can no longer be used to expel migrant families arriving at the US southern border.

The ruling by Washington District Judge Emmet Sullivan found that Title 42 rules, under which undocumented migrants have been swiftly expelled at the US border with Mexico, does not authorise the government to deny them the opportunity to seek asylum.

The measure, first introduced by the Trump administration, was extended under Biden and is aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19 in holding facilities. 

“President Biden should have ended this cruel and lawless policy long ago, and the court was correct to reject it today,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the Immigrants Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which led the legal challenge to drop the Trump-era policy, filing a lawsuit on August 2 after negotiations with the Biden administration failed.

"The court is not convinced that the transmission of Covid-19 during border processing cannot be significantly mitigated," Sullivan said, adding that the availability of vaccines, testing and other measures has made the policy unnecessary.

US authorities arrested more than 195,000 asylum seekers at the Mexican border in August as arrests have hovered around a 20-year high in recent months. 16,240 people traveling in family groups were expelled using Title 42 in the same month, according to the statistics from Customs and Border Protection.

The judge's order will come into effect on September 30, giving the government the opportunity to appeal to keep the policy in place. As it applies to families only, single adults can continue to be expelled.

President Joe Biden halted the practice of expelling unaccompanied children, following reports that they were being sent alone into dangerous Mexican border cities, but continued turning away most other migrants.

In recent months, Mexico has begun accepting fewer migrant families with children expelled from the US under title 42, resulting in some of them being allowed to remain in the US.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies