Sept 16 (Reuters) - A U.S. district judge on Thursday blocked the expulsion of migrant families caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border under an order put in place by former President Donald Trump's administration early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The order, invoking Title 42, was issued in March 2020 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which cited the need to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colombia wrote the public health law the policy is based on does not authorize the expulsions of migrants. Expelling asylum seekers denies them the "opportunity to seek humanitarian benefits" they are entitled to under immigration law, he wrote.
Sullivan's order takes effect in 14 days. The Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The judge's order only applies to families and not to single adults, who represent most of the migrants arrested at the border.
The ruling comes as U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, faces pressure from Republicans due to the number of border arrests, which have hovered around 20-year highs.
U.S. authorities arrested more than 195,000 migrants at the Mexican border in August, according to government data released on Wednesday. Thousands of people were waiting under the International Bridge that connects Del Rio, Texas and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, this week, according to a Reuters witness.
Biden has faced growing pressure from some health experts, immigration advocates, and fellow Democrats to stop applying the Title 42 order, that has essentially cut off access to asylum for hundreds of thousands of migrants.
Biden in February exempted unaccompanied children from the expulsion policy and his administration had been applying it to fewer families apprehended at the border. In August, the Biden administration expelled about 19% of families apprehended at the border under Title 42.
The Biden administration has said the Title 42 policy remains necessary to limit the spread of the coronavirus, although it has not provided scientific data to support that rationale and many public health experts have opposed it.
Human rights groups and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees have said expelled migrants face violence and kidnappings in northern Mexico.
"President Biden should have ended this cruel and lawless policy long ago, and the court was correct to reject it today," said Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants' Rights Project, one of the groups challenging the expulsions.
(Reporting by Kristina Cooke in San Francisco and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Editing by Mark Porter and Lisa Shumaker)