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Judge temporarily blocks Biden administration from lifting COVID border rules

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The Biden administration was planning to rescind Title 42 on May 23. In March of 2020, the Centers for Disease Control under the Trump administration issued a public health order that allowed border agents to send migrants at the U.S. border back rather than hearing asylum claims, citing COVID infection risks. But yesterday, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order preventing any action by the Biden administration before the next court hearing on May 13. We're now joined by Democratic California Congressman Tony Cardenas. He was at the White House yesterday with other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Congressman, thanks for being here.

TONY CARDENAS: My pleasure to be here. I appreciate this opportunity for us to discuss this important topic.

MARTINEZ: So at the moment, what do you expect to happen on May 23?

CARDENAS: Well, I'm hoping and expecting that on May 23, the Biden administration will follow through. What this judge did today stands for apparently 14 days. The judge might extend it. But in the meantime, the Biden administration is looking to follow through with their commitment to try to responsibly and appropriately rescind this effort on Title 42, which started with the Trump administration.

MARTINEZ: Now, the judge is Robert Summerhays from Louisiana. He's a Trump appointee. What would make you think that the temporary restraining order would not be extended, considering his ruling today?

CARDENAS: Well, I'm sure the Biden administration is going to continue to fight this lawsuit. And it's important for people to understand that the Biden administration, as he told us members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus leadership who met with the president face-to-face, that he is committed to following through with his commitment to make sure that they recognize and give asylum-seekers the due process that they deserve when they come seek asylum at our border.

MARTINEZ: Considering that President Trump invoked Title 42 in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, did you ever think that it ever made public health sense? In other words, was it ever a policy that made sense from a public health standpoint?

CARDENAS: I think it was a policy that was manipulated to try to make sense. But now we have vaccines. We have quarantine practices. We have COVID that is still with us but very much in the sideview mirror, soon to be in the rearview mirror. So I think that the Biden administration is going to do everything that it can to treat people with the dignity that they deserve and give them the opportunity to follow through with their seeking of asylum when they come to our borders.

MARTINEZ: Congressman, when you say it was manipulated to make sense, are you saying that Title 42 was invoked strictly as an anti-immigrant, anti-asylum maneuver?

CARDENAS: Absolutely. This has the fingerprints of Stephen Miller, who is very anti-immigrant and someone that Trump trusted and entrusted very much to help him come up with policies exactly like this. But Stephen Miller is no longer in the White House. We have a Biden administration who is a lot more thoughtful and respectful to people who want to seek asylum here in the United States.

MARTINEZ: Your colleague Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar's district runs right along the border. And he has said that he has seen infections rise there recently. Also, he believes it was a mistake to think about rescinding 42 for political reasons. Here's a quote. "We can't believe that they're hurting Democrat chances for the November election. Democratic voters are not happy. And if you look at independent voters, they're not happy about this decision. So who are we trying to please?" Congressman, is the migrant surge that is expected if 42 gets lifted too much of a political risk for vulnerable House and Senate Democrats right now?

CARDENAS: I believe when 42 is rescinded and we bring proper order to those seeking asylum, what you're going to see is they're going to have the opportunity to get a vaccine. They will take it, and they will be safe here. They will not be endangering the lives of people in this country.

MARTINEZ: Because I know some senators - Mark Kelly, Chris Coons, Gary Peters - they've all come out asking the Biden administration to reconsider rescinding Title 42. How does it feel to hear members of your own party have their doubts about whether rescinding 42 is a good move at this time?

CARDENAS: Well, I can't speak for the homework that some of my colleagues did or did not do. But what I know - I'm on the Energy and Commerce Committee. I'm on the Health Subcommittee. And we have heard testimony after testimony about how to treat this pandemic that is still in our midst. And we do have vaccines. We do have quarantine practices. We do have best practices. And we can do things as good as anybody in the world can. And when we apply those practices and those vaccines, etc., you're going to see that these people seeking asylum are not going to hurt our country in any way. And our country is not going to be less safe with them here.

MARTINEZ: Congressman, one last thing. Politically, though, does it make more sense to hit a pause on rescinding 42 until after the midterms are over?

CARDENAS: I believe that when it comes to doing the right thing, doing the right thing doesn't know a season. The season for doing the right thing is now. We have people who are seeking asylum, people who are fleeing death in their own countries. And our country has always been the beacon of light for folks. And I believe that as long as we look at that as our path forward, we are going to be able to do the right thing again.

MARTINEZ: That's Tony Cardenas, Democrat from California. Thank you very much.

CARDENAS: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.