A federal court has blocked the Trump administration from continuing to deport unaccompanied migrant children under a program that allowed immigration officials to summarily deport asylum seekers arriving at the southern border due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
At least 13,000 of these children have previously been deported under the policy, often with little or no notice to their parents or legal counsel and even though they have no symptoms of the virus. Others have been held in hotels along the border for long periods as part of the program.
This is despite the fact that immigration officers are required to transfer migrant children within 72 hours of their arrest to the Refugee Resettlement Office of the Department of Health and Human Services, where they would have a lawyer and the possibility of seeking asylum and other forms of legal protection in the United States.
In one decision wednesday, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan concluded that the Trump administration illegally invoked the pandemic to achieve its long-standing goal of preventing asylum seekers from entering.
One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the policy, a 16-year-old identified only as PJES in court records, had fled his home country, Guatemala, after receiving death threats because of the political views of his father and because he had refused to join a gang. . He sought to join his father, who currently lives in the United States and awaiting deportation proceedings. But when he arrived at the southern border, he was taken into custody by US Customs and Border Protection in McAllen, Texas, and put on the rapid deportation program.
Since the ACLU filed its complaint to challenge the policy, the government has voluntarily removed PJES from the rapid deportation program and sent him to an HHS facility.
The Trump administration began deporting migrants to Mexico in March under Title 42, a section of the public health law, which allows the US government to temporarily bar non-citizens from entering the States. United “when necessary in the interest of public health”.
Trump had previously relied on a series of interrelated policies to make the asylum system nearly inaccessible to the vast majority of people arriving at the border. This included a program in which tens of thousands of asylum seekers were sent back to Mexico to await their hearings in U.S. immigration court and deals with Central American countries that allowed Immigration officers to deport migrants who had passed through these countries on their way to the United States.
But the Title 42 deportations have largely replaced those policies as the Trump administration’s primary means of preventing migrants from entering amid the pandemic. The administration made it effective until the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that the continued spread of Covid-19 “has ceased to be a serious danger to public health.”
While President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to dismantle most of Trump’s border policies once he takes office, he has left open the possibility of maintaining the Title 42 agenda at least temporarily. But it’s not clear that there is a public health rationale for keeping the policy in place, given that the level of community transmission in the United States is already so high.
Immigrant advocates have argued that the United States can continue to safely protect vulnerable immigrants.
“This policy flies in the face of our country’s long-standing commitment to protect refugees, including unaccompanied children on the move, and the court has rightly urged it,” said Wendy Young, President from the legal aid group Kids in Need of Defense, in a statement Wednesday. . “The United States is able to determine the protection needs of these children while responding to public health concerns.”