The Supreme Court on Tuesday, December 27, allowed Title 42 – the Trump-era immigration policy implemented when the coronavirus pandemic broke out to quickly expel asylum-seekers at the border – to remain in effect, putting a judge’s order that would have ended it last week on hold.

The court voted 5-4 to grant an emergency request by 19 Republican state attorneys general who sought to interfere in the defense of the policy. The decision puts on hold a ruling by Washington-based US District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s implementation of the policy was “arbitrary and capricious.” Sullivan’s ruling was due to go into effect on December 21.

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What is Title 42?

Title 42 is a clause of the 1944 Public Health Services Law that “allows the government to prevent the introduction of individuals during certain public health emergencies,” said Olga Byrne, the immigration director at the International Rescue Committee.

On March 20, 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 public health emergency, then-President Donald Trump previewed a measure to control “mass uncontrolled cross-border movement,” a move that would ultimately go further in restricting migration than any of his administration’s previous hardline border policies.

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Trump and his top advisors had also supported tightening and overhauling US immigration policy and the president has run on a pledge to construct a wall along the border with Mexico to prevent migrants from entering the country.

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Title 42 allowed the government to quickly expel migrants trying to cross the southern US border with Mexico, including asylum seekers, using the coronavirus pandemic as a justification. The Biden administration continued to defend the policy for more than a year after the current president took charge, and expelled around two million people under Title 42 in financial years 2021-22, according to the US Customs and Border Protection data.

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Democratic activists and lawmakers who support immigration have requested the Biden administration to end the order for two years now, and Title 42 became a major issue during the 2022 midterm elections.