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THURS: Buttigieg gets an earful about tribal roads during his New Mexico stop, + More

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Gino Guttierez
/
Source New Mexico
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said tribal roads have been historically underfunded in American and the way to correct this is through strong partnerships and dialogues during a visit to the All Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque.

Buttigieg gets an earful about tribal roads during his stop in N.M. - Shaun Griswold, Source New Mexico 

Tribal leaders in New Mexico had a simple message to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg: Give us money to fix roads, and patch up the broken agreement the federal government has failed to maintain.

“The so-called federal responsibility is not met for these tribes,” Ron Shutiva told Buttigieg during his stop in Albuquerque on Wednesday. ”That federal responsibility, our great white father, is supposed to be taking care of all of our needs within Indian Country because they took the land that we have away from us.”

Shutiva, the tribal liaison for the New Mexico Department of Transportation, is from Acoma Pueblo and has seen firsthand for decades the problem-solving tribal nations have to do in order to fix and repair roads using a funding formula stretched between multiple government sources.

“We always have to deal with that white tape. I call it white tape. A lot of people call it red tape, but I call it white tape, because it’s somebody else making those regulations for us,” Shutiva said.

While Shutiva’s message came near the end of Wednesday’s meeting, it echoed what tribal representatives from the Pueblos, Apache bands and Navajo Nation expressed regarding funding for new road projects, poorly maintained roads, and problems with federal grants that are excluding tribal nations from millions in investments under the Biden administration.

Buttigieg’s first visit on Wednesday to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center came after a stop with tribal leaders at the Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute on the Westside of Albuquerque. After the event at the IPCC with the All-Pueblo Council of Governors, he headed to Arizona to meet with Hopi Chairman Timothy L. Nuvangyaoma and outgoing Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. Buttigieg did also meet privately with Navajo President-Elect Buu Nygren in Albuquerque.

Buttigieg is visiting the Southwest to tout investments in local communities under President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that was passed in 2021.

His listening session with Pueblo leaders highlighted systemic problems creating the reality that more than 60% of tribal roads are unpaved, according to federal data.

Tribes said the federal government could help with even basic necessities, such as ground salt for icy roads and updated equipment that can assist with general maintenance.

Tribes also expressed concerns that planning and development of shovel-ready projects requires expertise they do not all have, so federal funding for such projects could skip tribal nations in New Mexico.

“The tribes are going to miss the boat because of infrastructure planning,” said Chris Little, Mescalero Apache Tribe public works director.

Little said his tribe has lost out on funding opportunities by spending the time to line up engineers and other specialists to meet guidelines to apply for federal dollars, in turn missing deadlines. He’d like to see reform that guarantees money down the road if tribes are finalizing their road work plans.

“There’s two years we lost with funding,” he said. “So there would have to be some type of mechanism that when we start to process, we’re going to be assured that the funding is going to be there.”

Rising prices are also a concern. Tribal officials said the cost of constructing one mile of road went from $1 million before the pandemic to more than $3 million now. And that’s left some with underfunded projects.

On top of that, federal dollars allocated to maintain existing roads are not keeping up with inflation. Charles Riley from Acoma Pueblo told Buttigieg that his community receives $100,000 for road maintenance, but the annual costs to complete the work totals more than $900,000.

“The road maintenance program that’s run through the Bureau of Indian Affairs is never enough money compared to the amount of money that we get for construction,” Riley said.

Tribes also expressed concerns over bureaucratic mechanisms that limit the scope of their road projects.

To break it down, the Federal Highway Administration allocates millions for road projects through the Tribal Transportation Program. That program is often used to pull down millions more for construction projects in matching funds. However, the Safe Streets and Roads for All program under Biden’s infrastructure law prohibits tribes from using those funds to apply for competitive grants.

This issue was brought to Buttigieg by nearly every tribal representative on Wednesday, and it’s something he acknowledged that his office is working to fix.

“We’ll be thinking about this question of the (tribal dollars) match, which we’re hearing a lot, and what we can do to try to create the right kind of flexibility there,” Buttigieg said after he heard from the Pueblo leaders. “I do not know how you do it with the formula dollars for maintaining the number of lane mile roads that exist out there.”

Officials don’t intend to ask for more state money next year for uranium mine cleanup - By Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico

Even though the state Legislature passed a uranium mine bill that was signed into law by the governor, it’ll likely be years before the state actually begins to clean things up. More money is needed for the effort, but because the early stages of work are moving slowly, officials don’t expect to ask for additional funding in the next legislative session.

Uranium mining boomed in New Mexico from the 1950s to the 1980s, before there were many state and federal environmental regulations in place. The United States government used most of the uranium to develop nuclear weapons. Once demand dropped, many companies abandoned their mines, despite numerous environmental and health risks the sites pose.

The mines that dot the landscape have been poisoning people for decades, exposing them to radioactivity. Many of the sites are concentrated in northwestern New Mexico and on Navajo Nation, and they expose people to radiation. Groundwater contamination means people can ingest excessive levels of saline, nitrate and uranium via their drinking water. Uranium can cause severe health consequences, even for infants after maternal exposure, studies have shown.

So this year, legislators unanimously approved a cleanup bill in the Roundhouse, and it went to the governor’s desk, where she signed it in March. But not much has happened in the nine months since it’s been a law.

State environment and resource officials presented to the Legislature’s Radioactive & Hazardous Materials Committee on Monday about the ongoing work to make the intent of House Bill 164 a reality.

The legislation requires the N.M. Environment Department to lead reclamation efforts, working with other state agencies to develop a plan and a timeline. But that can’t even begin until an NMED coordinator is hired.

Jonas Armstrong is the director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives within NMED. He said the department conducted interviews in October for the coordinator.

Spokesperson Matthew Maez said NMED is in the process of issuing an offer letter to a chosen candidate. He said work will accelerate when the position is filled, which will hopefully happen in December.

Armstrong said once the coordinator is hired, they’ll figure out if existing funding will be enough, look at other programs to find good remediation plans and determine how to get more resources that are needed, either through federal appropriation or lawsuits — though he didn’t verify if that would be suing mining companies or the federal government.

But that’ll take time too. The department likely won’t ask for any additional state funding in the upcoming legislative session because there won’t be enough information collected yet on the plan. Armstrong said they anticipate requesting more money in 2024.

“A lot of this is strategic planning work as is laid out in the bill and will take some time,” Armstrong said.

He mentioned the settlement that New Mexico reached with the U.S. government after the Gold King Mine spill when federal contractors unleashed nearly 1 million pounds of heavy metals spill into a watershed in the state in 2015. He said that at least required the federal government to establish a point of contact that can be used for this uranium mine cleanup work, too.

John Rhoderick, director of NMED’s Water Protection Division, said the mines aren’t only on state land, so many tribal, state and federal agencies are involved in this effort, which adds to the complexity.

“If it was simple, it would’ve been done a long time ago,” he said.

WHO FOOTS THE BILL?

Rhoderick said just figuring out what kind of remediation strategies will work is a huge task. While not much information has been gathered yet, he said the department knows the state will need money to get cleanup moving.

“A big part of what we’re doing with this first year is evaluating whether the tools we have in the toolbox are sufficient, or whether we need additional authorities, whether we need additional tools,” Rhoderick said. “What we know is we need additional money.”

Fixing the messes will be costly. Officials from the N.M. Environment Department and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department reiterated multiple times at the meeting that one of the big challenges is finding the money to cover the expenses.

Rhoderick said it’s up to the mining companies and federal government — the entity that needed the uranium — to pay for the messes they left behind. Jerry Schoeppner, director of EMNRD’s Mining and Minerals Division, added that one of the first things to get done with the cleanup coordinator is making sure responsible parties are paying.

“The responsibility of our state agencies — New Mexico Environment Department, and Mining and Minerals — is to hold those entities accountable and coordinate the work to protect not only our current people here in New Mexico but also future generations,” Rhoderick said.

New Mexicans shouldn’t be the ones paying for this, Rhoderick said. But Rep. Eliseo Lee Alcon (D-Milan) questioned that, since the state made money off of the uranium mining. Rhoderick said not all potential entities to be held responsible have been identified, so he can’t address the issue definitely yet.

“The intent is not to leave any rock unturned,” Rhoderick said.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn (D-Las Cruces) sponsored the cleanup bill. He said the law doesn’t prevent New Mexico from helping cover the costs.

“Should we find ourselves with an extra billion dollars and want to put it into remediation, it would not be the wrong answer,” Steinborn said. “It would not be the wrong thing to do.”

However, responsible parties should be paying whenever possible, he said.

Schoeppner pointed out that not everyone who left the waste behind will pay for it now.

“We know there’s a handful of viable responsible parties still out there, but very few,” Schoeppner said. “Most of them have since blown away, gone away.”

But the state government isn’t even sure of where all of the abandoned mine sites are or exactly how many remain. So that’ll have to be figured out first, Rhoderick said.

“First is the scope. Then we look at cost estimates,” Rhoderick said. “Then we’re looking for who’s going to pay for those. Our goal is for it not to be New Mexicans.”

USING A DATABASE THAT’S OVER A DECADE OLD

What the state knows about where abandoned mines are is based on information that EMNRD put together in 2008.

The department identified about 260 legacy sites that produced at least 5,000 pounds of uranium before they were deserted.

There are also about 450 other sites that didn’t produce quite that much uranium and didn’t make it into the database, Schoeppner said. He said there needs to be more research done on the risks those mines still present.

“There could be some environmental issues there. We need to dig into those,” he said. “Those are really the unknowns at this point.”

He said this database is really a starting point, and the department plans to update it.

The federal government could also help find more sites. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Defense-Related Uranium Mines program verifies locations of mines that were used in producing nuclear weapons. Clint Chisler with the EMNRD’s Mining and Minerals Division said that federal work is ongoing to assess defense mines in New Mexico.

But when Steinborn asked if the feds will go beyond assessment to actually cleaning up the sites, Chisler said no reclamation work is planned.

Still, Steinborn said he’s glad the state agencies at least are finally working together to make uranium mining cleanup a priority.

He encouraged the state officials to follow up with New Mexico’s federal delegation to get funding for remediation projects. He said he has a talk soon with Sen. Martin Heinrich about where dollars could come from.

“This is going to be expensive work,” he said.

Cleanup is also a priority for Secretary of the Interior Department Deb Haaland, who oversees 500 million acres of public land and has talked about her own experiences with uranium causing health issues across Laguna Pueblo. She’s said people who have suffered from contamination should be compensated, though many still haven’t been.

“This has been an issue that we haven’t seen enough movement on,” Steinborn said.

N.M. public defenders beg lawmakers for funding as workloads grow heavier - By Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico

New Mexico’s public defenders say they have too many clients and nowhere near enough attorneys to represent them. Without more funding from state lawmakers, they say people accused of crimes are losing out on their constitutional rights to adequate defense and due process.

When someone is charged with a crime in New Mexico, there is a good chance that they can’t afford their own attorney and must be provided one by the state.

And among those attorneys, many are not actually employed by the state Law Offices of the Public Defender but are contractors instead.

And when a contractor takes on, for example, a first-degree murder case, they are paid a base rate of $5,400. For the whole case.

That means, on average, that attorney is making $13.81 per hour representing their client, according to a study of New Mexico public defenders’ workloads published in January.

“Those numbers should shock us,” Rep. Ryan Lane (R-Aztec) told the Legislative Finance Committee on Tuesday afternoon.

The caseloads that public defenders have are still too high, and what the office pays to contract outside help is still way too low, said Thomas Clear, chairperson of the state Public Defender Commission.

Lawmakers are taking testimony this week from various state agencies in order to decide how much funding to provide in the next fiscal year.

It’s very important for contract attorneys to make a competitive rate, said Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur, because they represent people in cases where there are co-defendants all over New Mexico.

“In many of our counties, in the rural counties where we don’t have an office, they provide the only representation,” Baur said. “And we are committed to providing excellent representation in every county of New Mexico,” Baur said.

A CONSTITUTIONAL MANDATE

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1963 ruled that the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution entitles people accused of crimes to help from a lawyer in their defense, even when they cannot afford to pay for one.

In a later case, the Supreme Court determined that if an attorney is unable to effectively represent their client, that could call into question whether the trial was fair or that with better help, there was a reasonable chance the client would have been found not guilty.

Rep. Christine Chandler (D-Los Alamos) said on Tuesday that more staff at the Public Defender’s Office is needed to ensure all criminal defendants in New Mexico receive effective legal representation.

“It is not simply just talking about a budget,” Chandler said. “It is talking about whether we are providing enough support to ensure that indigent individuals in the state are receiving the legal representation they deserve under the law.”

The office is asking the Legislature for $13.2 million more from the state’s General Fund — about 21% more than what’s being spent now on public defenders.

The request includes $4.2 million to increase contract attorney compensation, $1.2 million for in-house attorney compensation, and $5.7 million to add 60 full-time staff, including 30 attorneys.

The request for funding more staff is based on recommendations from a four-year-long workload study released in January that found three times more defense attorney hours are needed across New Mexico to provide adequate legal representation, Baur said.

So the Public Defender’s Office created a five-year plan to show how it could get “pretty close to what reasonably effective assistance of counsel would be,” Baur said.

The plan calls for ramping up resources for in-house and contract public defenders, and reforming charging and prosecution practices to “cut down on the number of people coming into the system without necessarily affecting public safety,” Baur said.

Over the last couple of years, prosecutors and courts have gotten more money from the Legislature than public defenders, Baur said. The office is also asking the Legislature for funding to begin to even that out.

A pay equity study will be published soon, Baur said, “and we think it’s going to show that we do need additional monies to make sure that we can compete with district attorneys to both bring in and retain attorneys.”

The $1.2 million for increased in-house attorney compensation would also help pay for travel expenses for lawyers, expert witnesses, and more frequent trial costs. Trials were backlogged because court systems shut down early on in the COVID pandemic but are moving forward again.

And to keep people from coming back into the criminal legal system, Baur said, the Public Defender’s Office needs money to pay for social workers who could “take our clients to the point that they are less likely to reoffend and they are more likely to become productive members of the community.”

“We can be the biggest part of the system of all, because our clients can grow to trust us before anybody else,” Clear said.

STILL TAKING ALL CASES

Clear and the Public Defender Commission proposed rules in 2018 that would allow public defenders to refuse taking on new cases instead of providing inadequate legal representation to poor clients.

They haven’t implemented those rules, Clear told the LFC, “because we don’t want to disrupt the system. We want to make things better, but we need your help.”

In 2016 and 2017, things were so dire in several local branches, particularly the one in Lea County, that the office told the court there they temporarily could not take more cases, Baur said.

That issue became the subject of a case before the state Supreme Court, which didn’t make a decision, Baur said, but asked the Public Defender’s Office to gather more data about how much work one lawyer can do while actually providing effective representation to their clients in the criminal legal system.

Clear said the public defenders in New Mexico want to make a difference in their clients’ lives, “but they have too many cases. They can’t do it because they’re triaging.”

New Mexico urges flu, COVID immunization for children - Associated Press

State health officials are encouraging the immunization of children against flu and COVID-19 without making changes to its list of other vaccines required for school entry in the fall of 2023.

The New Mexico Department of Health announced Wednesday its school immunization requirements for the next school year. There were no changes to the list of mandatory immunizations for maladies including measles, mumps, tetanus, polio and chicken pox.

Immunization for flu, coronavirus and papillomavirus at appropriate ages are recommended but not required.

Health Department Secretary David Scrase says the agency has never required vaccinations for viral respiratory illnesses but is encouraging them based on an influx of young children getting sick with viruses including COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus. The influx of patients is straining hospital pediatric units.

"Vaccinating children against flu and COVID-19 would help prevent disease spread, severe illness and long-term complications in children," Scrase said in a statement.

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, usually results in mild, cold-like symptoms and can cause severe breathing problems for babies.

A state vaccine advisory committee typically convenes once a year to discuss requirements for the upcoming school year. It met Nov. 3.

New Mexico officials warn of potential disruptions to county-level election certifications - By Ryan Lowery, Source New Mexico

Voters statewide cast ballots last week to decide a number of races and local issues, and now that those votes have been counted, it’s up to county canvassing boards and commissions to complete the legal process of certifying election results.

The certification process is typically quick and straightforward, but in recent elections, unfounded fears, conspiracy theories and outright lies have caused delays. So far, no county has indicated plans to delay certification that are due in a few days, but the Secretary of State’s Office and the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General issued a joint statement Tuesday notifying county commissions that a legal team is ready to “take action against any attempts to interfere with legal certification.”

Under state law, each of the state’s 33 counties must have a canvassing board conduct a formal inspection of the election results. These boards then review vote totals and either certify the totals or order a recount.

In counties with 150,000 or more voters, the board has up to 13 days after the election to declare the results. In smaller counties, canvassing boards are required to declare certification no later than 10 days after an election.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Attorney General Hector Balderas, through the joint statement, said they’re aware of election conspiracy theorists who might attempt to “enlist county commissions” to thwart legal certification of the 2022 general election results.

“These tactics are not new and were seen during the 2022 primary election when Otero County (influenced by these same election conspiracy theorists) attempted to neglect their legal duties and not certify the results of that election,” the statement said.

The Otero reference relates to an incident earlier this year when the County Commission initially refused to certify the results of the state’s June 7 primary election over distrust of vote-counting machines manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems, a Denver-based company that has been the target of many of former President Donald Trump’s false claims about fraudulent 2020 election results.

The board ultimately voted 2-1 to certify the results, but only after the state Supreme Court and the AG’s office stepped in.

The Otero County Commission — now composed of Republican Vickie Marquardt, Republican Gerald Matherly and Democrat Stephanie DuBois — unanimously voted Tuesday to certify the canvass of the 2022 general election.

Though no credible evidence of widespread voter fraud or manipulation of tallying machines has been found, Commissioner Marquardt said she still believes fraud is taking place nationwide.

“I think there is a fight for the elections in this country. I think it’s ongoing,” she said. “I think we all need to stay involved in it, but not certifying these elections — the only thing that’s going to do is probably get Gerald (Matherly) and I removed from office.”

Chaco drilling ban will likely only put a small dent in oil and gas production in the region  - By Shaun Griswold, Source New Mexico

A plan to bar new oil and gas leases within Chaco Canyon National Historic Park for 20 years will only slightly reduce the activity of extractive mineral industries, according to an environmental assessment released last week by the U.S. Interior Department.

The federal government announced a halt to new leases on about 338,690 acres within a 10 mile-radius in Chaco Canyon in January 2022.

The news was met with celebration by tribal entities and environmental groups, but advocates were concerned that the proposal wouldn’t apply to existing leases or to areas outside the buffer zone, so drilling would continue around the sacred site.

“There’s still going to be development going on in that 10-mile buffer, and there’s nothing to prohibit that,” said Carol Davis, director of Diné CARE, told the news publication Grist a month after the announcement. “And that’s going to expose people to the adverse health impacts that are a result of oil and gas fracking.”

The Interior Department projects that within the Chaco Canyon buffer zone, where new leases are not permitted, natural gas producers will see a reduction of less than 1% in their output. Oil and gas companies could see about 2.5% less production than in years before the ban.

The Chaco region is a large swath of northwest New Mexico, and it’s considered a checkerboard area because of the way small parts of the Navajo Nation dot the landscape.

On a state level, New Mexico already has a 12-mile buffer zone banning new oil and gas leases on state land around Chaco that went into effect in 2019.

That executive order was signed by state Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard.

“The moratorium on oil and gas drilling does not mean there’s a moratorium on activity. I mean, we haven’t decided what activity would occur obviously, right in this area,” she said. “We are still contemplating what uses that land would be for.”

Garcia Richard won re-election last week with 55% of voters saying yes to another four-year term for the commissioner. She supports the federal government’s approach to Chaco Canyon, she said, and if it weren’t for limits imposed by state law, she’d make the state’s ban in the area extend for longer. It’s set to expire in Dec. 2023, and she’s already preparing to seek a renewal.

She said the State Land Office has not seen any impact from the ban on oil and gas revenue to the state. In fact, the industry is making record profits. For fiscal year 2022, New Mexico earned more than $2.4 billion for business on state lands, the majority of which comes from oil and gas. That nearly doubled the agency’s record for revenue in a single year, Garcia Richard said.

“This is not necessarily that impactful to production. But it’s still, you know, it’s a worthy thing to do because this area is so sacred and significant to so many in our state,” she said.

Windfalls of millions in revenue are attractive for any state, but the boom-and-bust nature of the industry is a lingering concern for people like Rebecca Sobel.

Sobel, organizing Director for WildEarth Guardians, said she approves of the moves Garcia Richard has made to protect Chaco Canyon and would like to see the moratorium expanded. She does hold some concerns that the federal government isn’t doing enough to hold the industry accountable.

“I think it’s all too common of a trope in New Mexico, to be concerned for the self-interest of the oil and gas industry because our state budget is held hostage by industry profits,” Sobel said. “The entire Greater Caco landscape deserves protection. The Chaco Canyon culture doesn’t stop at the 10-mile buffer. The Chaco landscape is a living culture where communities still reside.”

The State Land Office is taking part in the Honoring Chaco Initiative where the Interior Department is hosting discussions between tribal leaders, business, state, federal and other parties invested in the future of stewardship in the area.

This part of the process is welcome by both Sobel and Garcia Richard because it brings tribal interests to the table while negotiating action plans.

“It’s encouraging to see Secretary Haaland try to run the Interior differently, especially with this initiative, getting tribes to come to the table to have their own voice and deciding what’s in their own self-interest,” Sobel said. “It’s a really important step that it’s happening, but it’s still yet to be seen what the outcomes of this process are going to be because the greater Chaco landscape has a legacy of issues dealing with the results of being sacrificed for decades.”

Garcia Richard said the expertise was obvious.

“There’s not going to be anybody but a tribal member who will know the significance of these issues we’re working on,” Garcia Richard said.

From the moment she started drafting the drilling lease moratorium for New Mexico, Garcia Richard made sure to include tribal interests in her plans, she said, eventually collaborating with and gathering support from leaders within Indigenous communities to work with environmental groups and others in presenting the final order.

She’s excited to see the federal government follow up with a similar approach.

“This land is ancestral to tribes in New Mexico, and it’s sacred and significant to tribes in New Mexico,” Garcia Richard said. “The one thing I probably would caution anyone who wants to undergo tribal constitution is not to make it just kind of a de facto, checkbox process. Consultation should be done early, often, and it should be meaningful.”

Judge orders end to Trump-era asylum restrictions at border - By Elliot Spagat Associated Press

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the Biden administration to lift Trump-era asylum restrictions that have been a cornerstone of border enforcement since the beginning of COVID-19.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled in Washington that enforcement must end immediately for families and single adults, calling the ban "arbitrary and capricious." The administration has not applied it to children traveling alone.

Within hours, the Justice Department asked the judge to let the order take effect Dec. 21, giving it five weeks to prepare. Plaintiffs including the American Civil Liberties Union didn't oppose the delay.

"This transition period is critical to ensuring that (the Department of Homeland Security) can continue to carry out its mission to secure the Nation's borders and to conduct its border operations in an orderly fashion," government attorneys wrote.

Sullivan, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, wrote in a 49-page ruling that authorities failed to consider the impact on migrants and possible alternatives.

The ruling appears to conflict with another in May by a federal judge in Louisiana that kept the asylum restrictions.

If Sullivan's ruling stands, it would upend border enforcement. Migrants have been expelled from the United States more than 2.4 million times since the rule took effect in March 2020, denying migrants rights to seek asylum under U.S. and international law on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

The practice was authorized under Title 42 of a broader 1944 law covering public health.

Before the judge in Louisiana kept the ban in place in May, U.S. officials said they were planning for as many as 18,000 migrants a day under the most challenging scenario, a staggering number. In May, migrants were stopped an average of 7,800 times a day, the highest of Joe Biden's presidency.

Immigration advocacy groups have pressed hard to end Title 42, but more moderate Democrats, including U.S. Sens. Mark Kelly of Arizona and Raphael Warnock of Georgia, wanted it to stay when the administration tried to lift it in May.

The ban has been unevenly enforced by nationality, falling largely on migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — in addition to Mexicans — because Mexico allows them to be returned from the United States. Last month, Mexico began accepting Venezuelans who are expelled from the United States under Title 42, causing a sharp drop in Venezuelans seeking asylum at the U.S. border.

Nationalities that are less likely to be subject to Title 42 have become a growing presence at the border, confident they will be released in the United States to pursue their immigration cases. In October, Cubans were the second-largest nationality at the border after Mexicans, followed by Venezuelans and Nicaraguans.

The Homeland Security Department said it would use the next five weeks to "prepare for an orderly transition to new policies at the border."

"We continue to work with countries throughout the Western Hemisphere to take enforcement actions against the smuggling networks that entice migrants to take the dangerous and often deadly journey to our land borders and to address the root causes of irregular migration that are challenging our hemisphere as a whole," the department said.

ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said Sullivan's decision renders the Louisiana ruling moot.

"This is an enormous victory for desperate asylum seekers who have been barred from even getting a hearing because of the misuse of public laws," Gelernt said. "This ruling hopefully puts an end to this horrendous period in U.S. history in which we abandoned our solemn commitment to provide refuge to those facing persecution."

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel for the American Immigration Council, an immigrant advocacy group, distinguished Sullivan's ruling from the one by U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays in Louisiana, an appointee of President Donald Trump, which applied only to how the Biden administration tried to end Title 42. Sullivan found the entire rule invalid.