Florida judge temporarily blocks Biden’s migrant emergency parole program

The ruling comes as the pandemic-era Title 42 immigration policy ends.
Attorney General Ashley Moody speaks during a roundtable discussion at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora in Miami on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022.
Attorney General Ashley Moody speaks during a roundtable discussion at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora in Miami on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022. [ MATIAS J. OCNER | Miami Herald ]
Published May 12|Updated May 12

WASHINGTON — A Florida judge on Thursday night blocked an emergency program from the Department of Homeland Security that would allow some migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border to enter the country for a limited period while they await processing, just hours before Title 42, a pandemic-era immigration rule, was set to expire.

The ruling, by T. Kent Wetherell II, a judge appointed by former President Donald Trump, claims the emergency program closely resembles a similar parole program vacated by him back in March. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody filed the emergency motion for a temporary restraining order in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

In a bid to thwart a ruling against their favor, the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Border Patrol wrote to the judge that the Biden administration had put in place several policies designed to mitigate the use of “parole,” or the practice of releasing migrants into the country as they await future immigration proceedings.

But “given the limitations on other available options, once those options are exhausted, parole may be a necessary alternative,” the government wrote. “An order restricting DHS’s parole authority on the eve of this crisis has the serious potential to cause chaos and undermine the security of the border and the safety of border officials.”

Ahead of the end of Title 42, a public health order that allowed the government to expel migrants due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the administration has said that migrants must register for appointments with Customs and Border Patrol before arriving at the U.S. southern border to claim asylum, or else risk deportation to Mexico and a presumption of ineligibility for entry into the United States for up to five years.

Related: US policies spur overcrowding of migrants in Mexico, experts say

Still, the government wrote to Wetherell, “a significant risk remains that the increase in arrivals will be great enough that these measures are insufficient to mitigate the risk of overcrowding at border facilities that could overwhelm the border and raise serious health and safety risks to noncitizens and immigration officials.”

Parole with Conditions, the government wrote of the proposed emergency program, “is designed not for operational convenience, but rather precisely for such an emergency situation at the border. Thus, it can only be used in certain exigent circumstances, such as where U.S. Border Patrol has apprehended over 7,000 noncitizens per day across the southwest border over a 72-hour period, or where the average time in custody has exceeded 60 hours.”

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Already, even before Title 42 ended on Thursday, government officials acknowledged that over 10,000 migrant encounters had occurred across the border in that time period. The letter to the judge acknowledges that migrant encounters at the border are expected to “skyrocket.”

Wetherell ruled that Florida had standing based on his prior ruling and said that the government did not establish that its new program was materially different from the one he had vacated in March, when he claimed the Biden administration had overstepped its bounds in the use of parole. The Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security did not appeal that ruling at the time, with officials noting that it had rarely been used in recent months.

“The Southwest Border has been out of control for the past 2 years. And it is about to get worse,” Wetherell wrote Thursday night.

His temporary restraining order went into effect at 11:59 p.m. Thursday — the moment when Title 42 ended — unless the government files an emergency appeal.

Officials at the Department of Homeland Security are reviewing the ruling and did not provide comment for this report.