Health Immigration

ICE Expels Immigrant Children Even After Negative COVID-19 Tests

The Trump Administration is expelling immigrant children citing COVID-19 concerns, despite the children testing negative for the coronavirus before they are put on planes to their home countries.

An article published Monday by The Texas Tribune and ProPublica reveals that the Trump administration had implemented a testing program in which every child is tested for the coronavirus before being expelled. The revelation undermines the administration’s purported reason for denying children legal protections, which was to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the United States.

Since March, the Trump administration has cited the pandemic as a reason to circumvent existing immigration laws that mandated immigrant children be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and be allowed to apply for asylum. Multiple reports have shown that children are being held at hotels with almost no contact with lawyers and family members before being expelled from the country.

While 3,379 of children were apprehended by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) between April and June, only 162 were sent to HHS shelters. CBP did not explain where the remaining children were or say what happened to them. Some children reported weeks-long detention in hotel rooms by unlicensed government contractors.

“We are only reaching a tiny fraction of these kids,” said Lisa Frydman, vice president of international programs at Kids in Need of Defense, an advocacy group for migrant children. “The rest are just gone.”

Given the administration’s health order implemented in March, the children are technically not deported but are instead expelled. This technical difference allows children to be sent back without a judge’s ruling and no access to social workers, lawyers, and sometimes even family members while they are in custody. Immigration advocates say the government is illegally using an obscure provision of the 1893 Public Health and Welfare Code.

“The government is getting away with a complete end run around all of the protections for children that Congress has painstakingly enacted,” said Lee Gelernt, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) immigration attorney.

The ACLU, along with several other immigrant advocacy organizations, have sued the Trump administration to stop the expulsion of migrant children. In a July suit, advocates asked that the government release the names of children being held at hotels and allow them to talk to lawyers. Previously, lawyers have successfully prevented the expulsion of at least two children.

“The Trump administration is holding children in secret in hotels, refusing to give lawyers access to them so it can expel them back to danger without even a chance for the children to show they warrant asylum,” Gelernt said. “Unfortunately this is just the latest in a series of steps taken by the Trump administration to abuse and terrorize children.”

Sources: The Texas Tribune/ProPublica 08/10/20, 08/04/20; CBS News 07/24/20

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