A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the Donald Trump administration to stop expelling immigrant children who cross the southern border alone, halting a policy that has resulted in thousands of rapid deportations of minors during the coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan issued a preliminary injunction sought by legal groups suing on behalf of children whom the government sought to expel before they could request asylum or other protections under federal law.
The Trump administration has expelled at least 8,800 unaccompanied children since March when it issued an emergency declaration citing the coronavirus as grounds for barring most people crossing the border from remaining in the United States.
The administration “immediately” expelled most children and families to Mexico but more than 2,200 unaccompanied children and 600 people who came in families were held until flights could be arranged to return home, Ortiz said.
The administration asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a ruling last week that found use of hotels skirted “fundamental humanitarian protections.”
U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in Los Angeles ruled that using hotels for long-term detention violated a two-decade-old settlement governing the treatment of children in custody. She ordered border agencies to stop placing children in hotels by Tuesday.
Justice Department attorneys argued that settlement doesn’t apply during the public health emergency and that hotels were appropriate.
“While in these hotels, the government provides minors with supervision by specialists, recreation, amenities, and protective measures against COVID-19,” the attorneys wrote.
Before the pandemic, unaccompanied children were sent to state-licensed shelters operated by the Department of Health and Human Services and often released to family members while seeking asylum.
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.