Border Officers Turned Away Unaccompanied Immigrant Youngsters Extra Than 13,000 Occasions
The Department of Homeland Security has evicted unaccompanied immigrant children from the U.S. border more than 13,000 times since the Trump administration gave the agency unprecedented powers to access the border during the coronavirus pandemic, according to an internal document from BuzzFeed lock messages.
The number represents a huge spike in child evictions as the CDC issued an order allowing border officials to evict almost all immigrants from Mexico as the coronavirus spread rapidly around the world in March.
“This is a tremendous number of children who are unceremoniously sent back without the proper procedure, which can pose a serious threat or death,” said Lee Gelernt, an ACLU attorney who worked to stop the order.
Previously, unaccompanied children were taken to government-run shelters to pursue their asylum cases. However, the Trump administration has argued that the policy is necessary to prevent the coronavirus from spreading in the US and has been a key tool for border officials.
Expulsions are legally different from deportations, which would mean that an immigrant has actually gone through the immigration process and has been determined not to be legally allowed to stay in the United States. Critics say the government is using public health ordinances as an excuse to violate federal laws regulating the processing of unaccompanied minors at the border.
In September, a border official told a federal court that around 8,800 children had been turned over using the CDC ordinance. The internal DHS document states that since March there have been more than 13,000 “encounters” with unaccompanied immigrant children under the new policy.
A US Customs and Border Protection spokesman did not confirm the statistics due to ongoing legal disputes, but stated that “encounters” meant expulsions.
“As soon as they are found, they will be expelled,” said the spokesman, noting that the statistics could also include children who return to the border several times.
Prior to the pandemic, unaccompanied children picked up by border guards were sent to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, where they were placed in shelters, while they were officially applying for asylum and awaiting reunification with family members in the U.S.
The ORR Referral System was created by the Re-Authorization of the Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking Act signed by then-President George W. Bush in 2008. By law, CBP officials generally have 72 hours to refer children to the U.S. refugee agency.
But those recommendations fell sharply after the CDC was appointed. Instead, unaccompanied children at the border are immediately sent back to Mexico or held in CBP facilities until they can be removed by flight out of the country.
In late June, US District Judge Carl Nichols, appointed by President Donald Trump, blocked the deportation of a 16-year-old Honduran boy under CDC orders. Although the ruling did not completely undo politics, it was viewed as a blow to the administration. Since then, the government has said it has stopped trying to use the CDC order to remove the boy from the country.
In September, a federal judge also ordered the Trump administration to cease detaining immigrant children in hotels before they are quickly sent back to their home countries as part of the pandemic border policy.