Judge Rules Migrant Children May Not Be Expelled Quickly at Border Due to Coronavirus

Policy


A group of Central American migrants is questioned about their childrens’ health after surrendering to U.S. Border Patrol Agents south of the U.S.-Mexico border fence in El Paso, Texas, March 6, 2019. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the Trump administration may no longer cite coronavirus concerns to quickly expel migrant children who show up at the southern border without a guardian.

Judge Emmet Sullivan issued a preliminary injunction halting the policy, which had relied on a public health order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and requiring the administration to grant migrant children due process for their asylum claims.

The administration has already deported nearly 9,000 minors who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border unaccompanied. U.S. Customs and Border Protection had housed the children in hotels at the border until they could be deported shortly afterwards. Most others seeking asylum, a total of more than 200,000 migrants, have also been quickly turned away since the pandemic reached U.S. soil.

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The emergency public health measures the administration implemented in March relied on a 1944 public health law that allows the government to bar non-citizens who carry diseases from entering the country. The law does not permit deportations, however.

“Expelling persons, as a matter of ordinary language, is entirely different from interrupting, intercepting, or halting the process of introduction,” Sullivan wrote in his opinion, although he acknowledged that “the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented.”

The Trump administration is expected to request an immediate stay of the preliminary injunction and appeal the ruling.

The Department of Homeland Security slammed the ruling as a threat to public health, saying it was the product of an “activist judge.”

“Today’s dangerous decision is the propagation of one judge’s agenda thousands of miles away from the border, in the face of science and the law, with total disregard for the health of those whose lives will be affected,” said Chase Jennings, a DHS spokesman. “Along with executive branch partners, DHS is exploring all options to ensure this vital public health tool is quickly reinstated.”

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