El Paso, Texas — A federal judge in Florida on Thursday temporarily blocked the Biden administration from continuing a migrant release policy aimed at easing overcrowding at immigration checkpoints along the US-Mexico border.

The ruling came a few hours before Title 42 border restrictions expired Thursday at 11:59 p.m. EDT, raising concerns about severe overcrowding at already overcrowded Border Patrol migrant facilities.

U.S. District Judge Kent Wetherell ordered the Biden administration to end its fast-track migrant release policy at the same time it ended the pandemic-era Title 42 order, granting a request from Republican officials in Florida.

US and Mexican migrants
Migrants trying to cross into the United States from Mexico are detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the border on May 6, 2023 in San Luis, Arizona.

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In March, Wetherell also blocked a similar policy by the Biden administration to release migrants in a ruling on a lawsuit filed by the Florida attorney general.

Florida argues that this new policy is also illegal.

Wetherell’s latest executive order will expire in 14 days to give the Biden administration time to seek an emergency stay. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for May 19.

Erin Waters, a spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection (CBP), criticized Thursday’s ruling but said the agency would comply with it. “This is a harmful ruling that will create dangerous overcrowding at CBP facilities and impair our ability to effectively process and remove migrants, and risks creating unsafe conditions for border guards and migrants,” Waters said in a statement.

In a statement opposing Florida’s request, the Biden administration said the number of migrants detained by the Border Patrol could soar to 45,000 by the end of the month if the expedited release is blocked in court. Border Patrol detained nearly 25,000 migrants on Thursday despite being able to hold only a few thousand at stations, processing centers and tents.

The ruling raises the prospect of even more migrants being held in dangerously overcrowded detention centers amid a surge in migrant arrivals.

On the eve of Art expiry of section 42the daily number of migrants along the US-Mexico border has reached a record level, with border guards detaining an average of about 10,000 people a day.

Border Patrol agent Raul Ortiz told CBS News earlier Thursday that another 60,000 migrants were waiting on the Mexican side of the border, hoping to get into the United States

The memo at the center of Thursday’s ruling allows the Border Patrol to expedite the release of some migrants without a court order as part of an effort to reduce overcrowding in detention facilities.

Migrants who do not pose a threat to public or national security may be considered for this expedited release under the humanitarian parole authority. Those released under the policy, which has been used before during spikes in migrant clearances, will be instructed to register at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices around the country so they can receive court notices there.

In an interview Thursday, Ortiz, the border patrol chief, said the expedited release policy is helping his agency reduce overcrowding, noting that some border sectors are “congested.”

“We are working closely with our NGO partners, our communities, to make sure that we release these migrants after they have been vetted and cleared and they do not pose a significant threat to society,” he said.


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