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Judge ends “ public health ” deportations of children at border

WASHINGTON – A federal judge on Wednesday blocked President Trump’s policy of denying migrant children at the border as a public health risk, ruling that the expulsion of thousands of children without due process exceeded the authority conferred by the emergency public health decrees.

The Trump administration has been using an emergency decree from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since March to effectively seal the border to migrants, quickly returning them to Mexico or Central America without allowing immigration authorities to hear their requests. asylum. Senior internal security officials have cited the potential spread of the coronavirus which could come from the detention of asylum seekers at border facilities.

But Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, appointed by President Bill Clinton, said that while the emergency rule allows authorities to prevent the “introduction” of foreigners in the United States, she did not. giving border authorities the possibility of refusing children who would normally be placed in shelters and giving the possibility of making an asylum claim heard. The order applies throughout the country.

Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, one of four organizations that brought the class action lawsuit, welcomed the decision.

“The policy, which has already resulted in the summary deportation of thousands of young children, was simply a pretext to do what the Trump administration has wanted to do for four years: close the border to children and asylum seekers. Central America, ”he said. .

It is not known whether the Trump administration will appeal the order. The ruling does not apply to single adults or families crossing the border, although Judge Sullivan cast doubt on the general use of the rule. While the judge said the power granted by the rule was “extraordinary,” he wrote that it was “distinguishable” whether the rule allowed the government to quickly refuse migrants.

The administration used the rule to deport nearly 200,000 migrants in the fiscal year that ended on September 30, according to customs and border protection data. More than 13,000 of these migrants were children traveling alone, the ACLU said.

Judge Sullivan’s ruling will increase pressure on the new Biden administration, as it contemplates how far to roll back Mr. Trump’s border policies. While President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has said he will end other restrictions, such as Mr. Trump’s so-called stay in Mexico policy which has forced tens of thousands of migrants to return to it country to wait for a hearing, officials said only they would consult with public health officials on the health emergency decree.

While Department of Homeland Security officials used the CDC’s declaration of pandemic emergency to justify the policy, the rule was pushed by the White House and in particular by Stephen Miller, the immigration advocacy group of the White House, which had tried to use health authorities to reduce migration even before the emergence of the coronavirus.

“We hope that the Biden administration will immediately repeal this policy given that the CDC felt it was unnecessary as a public health measure,” Gelernt said. “What the Biden administration is doing as part of this policy may be the first real test of immigration and child protection.”

Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan research group, warned the move could fuel a wave of migration to the border. Some refused families have responded to similar court decisions by re-seeking protection. Department of Homeland Security intelligence analysts said the pandemic’s toll on Central American economies is likely to lead to increased migration in the coming months.

“As good as this order is for the children who are subjected to it, from the point of view of the Biden administration, it creates a new challenge: how do they plan on Day 1 to handle the increased flow of children to the southern border? ” Mrs. Pierce said. “It really opened up a box of worms for inbound administration.”

Mr Biden’s transition teams did not answer questions about the impending challenge.

Children crossing the border alone are supposed to be placed in shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours of detention. They can then be placed with relatives acting as sponsors as their immigration files are processed.

Senior border officials have argued that due to the pandemic, public health legislation must take precedence over immigration laws.

“There are times when a person’s desire and need to seek asylum is replaced by something of far greater value, and that is the lives of American citizens,” Mark Morgan said last month. , the Acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

Mr Morgan argued that without the rule, the lives of border patrol officers and others would be endangered by the overflow of border facilities. But immigration organizations that brought the case argued that the health emergency actually exposed officers more easily as they had to arrange for the children to be flown back to their home countries. . Homes in which these children would normally be placed were able to adopt social distancing guidelines, the lawyers argued. The number of migrants in custody at border facilities has also declined significantly since last spring, when the largest number of migrants crossing the border in more than a decade was recorded.

The court appeared to agree, ruling that the Trump administration had failed to provide scientific evidence to justify the swift deportations.

“The tribunal does not agree that the CDC’s interpretation involves its scientific and technical expertise because the government has not explained how this scientific and technical expertise led it to interpret” the introduction As encompassing ‘deportation’, ”Justice Sullivan said in the ruling.

The deployment of the policy by the administration was marked by a lack of transparency and questions about its legal justification. After the New York Times first reported that the administration would use the pandemic to effectively seal the border to asylum seekers, border officials said it would not apply to unaccompanied children.

But the Times later revealed that border officials were enforcing the restrictions on these children. And despite a diplomatic deal banning the United States from deporting children from other countries to Mexico, the Times recently reported that a senior border patrol official told colleagues in an email that such practice was happening.

This practice confused and spread anxiety among the children’s relatives, who struggled to learn how they ended up in Mexico.