This week, the Trump administration indefinitely extended an order that gives United States immigration agents the power to summarily expel migrants arriving at the US country’s borders under the pretext of preventing the spread of Covid-19.
First issued on March 20, the order invokes public health to further an agenda of hostility to migrant children and their families.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have already used the order to expel more than 20,000 people along the US-Mexico border in March and April. CBP hasn’t provided a breakdown of expulsions by age, gender, and other characteristics, but Human Rights First estimates they included at least 1,000 unaccompanied children.
Summary expulsions occur without due process, so the US government returns unaccompanied children without giving them an opportunity to make their case for asylum or to appeal.
Children desperately need these legal safeguards. Many are fleeing death threats, rape, and torture, or after being targeted for other serious abuse.
US authorities are also taking other procedural shortcuts to swiftly remove unaccompanied children who were already in the country, many of whom it was keeping in prolonged immigration detention instead of transferring them to the care of family members. Some were “rousted from their beds in the middle of the night in U.S. government shelters and put on planes out of the country,” the New York Times said, deported with no notice to families or lawyers and no coordination with protection authorities in children’s home countries.
The claimed legal authority for the order is an obscure public health provision enacted in 1893 and last revised in 1944 – well before Congress overhauled US immigration laws in 1952 and subsequently added protections for refugees, victims of torture, and children at risk of being trafficked. The expulsions under the order also conflict with well-established US obligations under international refugee law.
There's no public health basis for summary expulsions. In fact, “The order is based on specious justifications and fails to protect public health,” according to 40 health experts.
If safety – the public’s and the children’s – were the administration’s concern, it would take the kinds of evidence-based measures recommended by public health experts and release detained migrant children to families as quickly as possible. Instead, it’s rushing to return them to the places they fled.
The Trump administration is using the coronavirus pandemic as convenient cover for a renewed attack on migrant children and their families.