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COVID asylum restrictions must continue at border: judges

EAGLE PASS, Texas –

A federal judge in Louisiana is refusing to end pandemic-related restrictions on asylum seekers on the southern border. The judge on Friday blocked a plan by President Joe Biden’s administration to lift restrictions next Monday.

Migrants have been deported more than 1.9 million times under the authority of Federal Title 42 since March 2020.

The provision denies migrants the ability to seek asylum under US law and international treaties to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Arizona and Louisiana led 24 states questioning the plan to lift restrictions.

While US officials anxiously waited, many of the migrants who crossed the border from Mexico on Friday were unaware that a key court ruling was pending on whether they should maintain pandemic-related powers denying the ability to seek asylum to to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Justice Department asked U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays to rule by Friday whether to retain Title 42 as the litigation progresses, hoping to avoid a last-minute mess over the weekend. The judge in Lafayette, Louisiana, said he has until Monday to decide when public health powers should expire.

Migrants crossing into Eagle Pass, Texas, knew little or nothing about the rule, under which migrants have been expelled more than 1.9 million times since March 2020. They were mostly from Cuba, Colombia, Nicaragua and Venezuela — nationalities that have largely escaped the asylum ban because high costs, strained diplomatic ties or other considerations make it difficult for the US to fly them home.

Ana Pinales from the Dominican Republic, who reached Eagle Pass after three years living illegally in Chile where she could not find steady work, waded across the river before sunrise and went searching with about 35 Nicaraguans and 25 Cubans down a dirt road for US border guards to apply for asylum. She walked longer than the others and met about 15 other migrants waiting under one of the two Eagle Pass bridges in the Mexican border town of Piedras Negras. An agent arrived for them several hours later, relieving armed members of the Texas National Guard who had been guarding the group as golfers played at an adjacent riverfront golf course.

“Everyone in the world knows this route,” said Pinales, 28, with a smile, relieved she was almost at the end of a two-month journey that took her through Panama’s infamous Darien Gap and Mexico, where she was robbed of $3,000, while biding her time at a park in the southern city of Tapachula. She said she also frequently paid bribes to get past Mexican military checkpoints.

Title 42 has mostly affected people from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, many of whom have been waiting in Mexican border towns after being denied the right to seek asylum by the US government. Mexico has agreed to take in migrants from these three Central American countries who have been turned away by the US, and last month also began accepting a limited number of Cubans and Nicaraguans who have been turned away by US authorities.

Nolberto Avila, a small-scale coffee farmer who fled threats of violence in Colombia, leaving his mother and a sibling there to manage the crops, had never heard of Title 42 on the social media channels migrants are consulting about Find out who to trust and who to avoid and what to avoid. Online chatter led him to Eagle Pass after flying to Cancun and riding buses to the US border.

“It feels good to be here,” said Avila, 30, who spent $3,000 on plane tickets and other travel expenses, such as bribing Mexican soldiers. His final destination is Los Angeles.

A group of about 150 mostly Cuban migrants gathered a short distance south of the bridge on Friday after swimming and walking across the river in smaller groups for several hours for several hours before dawn. Border guards lined them up and directed them into vans to go to a processing area. About two-thirds were men, almost all the others were women, and some were young children.

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