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Florida judge blocks quick migrant release policy, raising concerns about overcrowding

Thousands gather near border as Title 42 ends
Thousands of migrants gather near U.S.-Mexico border as Title 42 policy ends 04:53

El Paso, Texas — A federal judge in Florida on Thursday temporarily blocked the Biden administration from continuing a migrant release policy designed to alleviate overcrowding at immigration holding facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The ruling came just hours before the Title 42 border restrictions expired at 11:59 p.m. ET Thursday, raising concerns about severe overcrowding in already over-capacity Border Patrol migrant facilities.

U.S. District Judge Kent Wetherell ordered the Biden administration to halt the quick migrant release policy at the same it discontinued the Title 42 pandemic-era order, granting a request by Republican officials in Florida.

U.S. - Mexico Border migrants
Migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. from Mexico are detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the border on May 6, 2023, in San Luis, Arizona.  Getty Images

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

Florida is arguing that this new policy is also illegal. 

Wetherell's latest order will expire in 14 days in order to give the Biden administration time to seek an emergency stay on the ruling. Another hearing in the case is scheduled for May 19.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) criticized Thursday's ruling but said the agency would comply with it.

"This is a harmful ruling that will result in unsafe overcrowding at CBP facilities and undercut our ability to efficiently process and remove migrants, and risks creating dangerous conditions for border patrol agents and migrants," CBP said in a statement.  

In a filing opposing the request by Florida, the Biden administration said the number of migrants stuck in Border Patrol custody could soar to 45,000 by the end of the month if the expedited releases were blocked in court. On Thursday, Border Patrol had nearly 25,000 migrants in its custody, despite only having the capacity to hold several thousand individuals in stations, processing centers and tents.

The ruling raises the prospect of even higher numbers of migrants being stranded in Border Patrol custody in dangerously overcrowded conditions amid a spike in migrant arrivals.

In the lead-up to the expiration of Title 42, daily migrant crossings along the U.S.-Mexico border have reached record levels, with border officials averaging roughly 10,000 apprehensions per day.

Earlier on Thursday, Border Patrol Raul Ortiz told CBS News that another 60,000 migrants were waiting on the Mexican side of the border, hoping to enter the U.S.

The memo at the center of Thursday's ruling allows Border Patrol to conduct expedited releases of some migrants without giving them court notices as part of an effort to reduce overcrowding in detention facilities.

Migrants who are found to not be a risk to public safety or national security could be considered for this quick release under the humanitarian parole authority. Those released under this policy, which has been used before during spikes in migrant crossings, will be instructed to check in at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices across the country so they can receive a court notice there.

In an interview Thursday, Ortiz, the Border Patrol chief, said the expedited release policy was helping his agency reduce overcrowding, noting that some border sectors were "over capacity."

"We're working closely with our NGO partners, our communities to make sure that we release those migrants after they've been vetted and cleared, and they pose no significant threat to the community," he said.

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