A federal appeals court has ruled that the Biden administration can go on rapidly expelling migrant families arrested crossing the US-Mexico border.
The ruling, which was issued by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, stated that migrants should not be sent anywhere they could be persecuted or tortured.
The latest ruling allows the government to keep in place restrictions first implemented under former US president Donald Trump in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The legality of the expulsion policy, known as Title 42, was challenged in court by a group of affected migrants, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and other non-profit organizations.
However, the appeals court ruled that the migrants covered by the policy likely "have no right to be in the United States" and that administration of President Joe Biden "can immediately expel them."
Biden has tried to retain the Title 42 order under which the US government is allowed to expel any number of immigrants without giving them access to apply for asylum in the country.
The order was issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in March 2020 as a pandemic-related public health measure.
Title 42 has been described by rights watchdogs as an unlawful and xenophobic Trump-era policy that weaponized public health to prevent vulnerable migrants from seeking asylum in the US. Many in Biden's party have joined some health experts and pro-immigrant advocates in opposing the policy.
Although Biden reversed some of his predecessor's hardline immigration policies after taking office in January 2021, government data indicates that his administration has expelled migrants more than a million times under the Title 42 order.
The total number of migrants expelled under the policy remains unclear since many have crossed the border more than once.
The new ruling raises the possibility of the US government having to carry out screenings to determine whether or not a person caught crossing the border has a reasonable fear of persecution or torture if expelled.
Last September, a federal judge ruled that the Title 42 policy could not be applied to families, however, the Biden administration appealed that decision.
Early in his presidency, the Democratic president exempted unaccompanied children from the expulsion policy, but a federal judge in Texas ruled in a separate decision on Friday that the administration could no longer grant such an exemption.
Border arrests skyrocketed to record levels in 2021, Biden's first year in office, and might soar even higher this year, US officials told Reuters in January.