On 18 November 2020, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to cease the expulsion of unaccompanied migrant children during the pandemic, halting a policy that has resulted in thousands of rapid deportations of minors. The government has expelled at least 8,800 unaccompanied children seeking protection since March on the basis of a health order issued by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), despite citing the coronavirus as grounds for refusing entry to the United States. The District Judge issued a preliminary injunction barring the government from expelling unaccompanied minors and it is not yet known whether the Justice Department would appeal the decision. It has nonetheless appealed another federal judge’s order barring the use of hotels to detain children (for more on the hotels, see 17 August United States update on this platform).
The deportation policy has been justified on the basis of a rarely used public health law dating back to 1944 (for more information, see 10 November United States update on this platform). The judge held that the legislation enables the government to prohibit the entrance of non-citizens carrying diseases, but on the other hand, it does not allow expulsions: “Expelling persons, as a matter of ordinary language, is entirely different from interrupting, intercepting or halting the process of introduction,” the judge wrote.
In September, a U.S. magistrate judge stated that the government had misinterpreted the legislation and assumed broad powers. Border patrol agents have reportedly used the CDC order to send back more than 200,000 people crossing the northern and southern borders since the start of the pandemic. On 3 October, Associated Press reported that Vice President Pence, pressured the CDC to employ emergency powers to shut the border in March.
- NBC News, “Judge Orders Trump Administration to Stop Expelling Children Who Cross Border Alone,” 18 November 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/judge-orders-trump-admin-stop-expelling-children-who-cross-border-n1248146
- J. Burnett, “Judge Says Coronavirus Can’t Be Used as Reason to Quickly Deport Unaccompanied Minors,” NPR, 18 November 2020, https://www.npr.org/2020/11/18/936312918/judge-says-coronavirus-cant-be-used-as-reason-to-deport-unaccompanied-minors?t=1605778584446&t=1605863142071
- J. Dearen & G. Burke, “Pence Ordered Borders Closed After CDC Experts Refused,” Associated Press, 3 October 2020, https://apnews.com/article/virus-outbreak-pandemics-public-health-new-york-health-4ef0c6c5263815a26f8aa17f6ea490ae
- Children Walking in a line at a Tent Encampment in Tornillo, Texas, on 19 June 2018, (Mike Blake, Reuters, “Judge Orders Trump Administration to Stop Expelling Children who Cross Border Alone,” NBC News, 18 November 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/judge-orders-trump-admin-stop-expelling-children-who-cross-border-n1248146)