A federal judge has blocked the Trump administration from turning back unaccompanied migrant children at the US-Mexico border under a public health order implemented in March, a major blow to the administration, which has relied on the order to swiftly expel migrants during the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this year, as coronavirus swept across the country, the Trump administration invoked a public health law that allowed for the removal of migrants, including children, apprehended at the border – a move that raised concerns among officials involved in compiling data who believed it to be driven by political motivations.
Since March, the Trump administration has removed around 197,000 migrants under Title 42, as it’s known, according US Customs and Border Protection data, including children.
US District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled Wednesday that the Trump administration doesn’t have the authority to expel children under the law and argued the injunction is warranted given harm to the children.
The plaintiff in Wednesday’s case is a 16-year-old boy from Guatemala who entered the US in August 2020 and was apprehended by CBP. After the motion was filed, the government exempted him from the public health order, the ruling states.
“There’s been a lot of attention on the changes the Trump administration is seeking to make in the asylum process itself, but if the Title 42 policy were to remain in place, none of those changes matter because no one would even get into the asylum process in the first place,” said Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.
Immigrant and civil rights advocates, as well as public health experts, have warned that the secretive system is putting kids in danger. They have criticized the administration for using public health claims as a pretext to impose harsh immigration restrictions.
The administration also came under scrutiny over the summer for relying on hotels to detain children until they could be returned.
In September, US District Judge Dolly M. Gee ruled that detaining migrant children in hotels wasn’t safe and did not “adequately account for the vulnerability of unaccompanied minors in detention.”