A Texas judge ruled on Friday that the Biden administration can no longer exempt unaccompanied immigrant children from a Trump-era policy, meaning many minors will be turned back if they make it to the southern U.S. border.
Under Title 42, the U.S. can immediately expel immigrants who arrive at the border as a way to “contain” the coronavirus. This means immigrants would not be able to apply for asylum or meet with an immigration judge. The policy began under former president Donald Trump’s administration, and the Biden administration continued with the plan but made an exception for unaccompanied immigrant minors.
Judge Mark Pittman, however, has ordered the government to lift the exemption. In his order, he argues that unaccompanied minors “still spend, on average, more than a day clustered at a DHS facility, where they can expose other detainees, personnel, and American citizens and residents to whatever viruses they are carrying.”
Pittman also argued that the government had put Texas in a position to deal with any financial consequences, saying the order’s exemption has led to the fact that “Texas has experienced, and will continue to experience, significant financial loss.”
The decision has been met with criticism from immigration organizations and advocates for immigrant children.
“Under no circumstance should a policy that was never about public health be used to return children arriving at the border alone to harm in Mexico or their countries of origin,” said Katharina Obser, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “Ending the policy has been long overdue, but there is no question that the Biden administration must now immediately move to end this unlawful, xenophobic policy to ensure the safety of children, families and adults fleeing danger, and before a single unaccompanied child is returned to harm.”
According to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than 1.6 million immigrants and asylum-seekers have been expelled under Title 42. Roughly 16,000 minors were expelled under Title 42 under Trump’s presidency before the exemption was made in 2020. In 2021 alone, Pew Research found that 144,834 unaccompanied immigrant children reached the U.S.-Mexico border.
Pittman’s order doesn’t go into affect until the end of the week, giving the government some time to decide if they will appeal the order.