The Trump administration plans to change a border policy linked to the pandemic to no longer promptly return unaccompanied immigrant children to four countries that require them to test negative for the coronavirus before entering, according to a draft order obtained by BuzzFeed News.
The bill would change an unprecedented order issued by the CDC earlier this year that allows border officials to deport immigrants at the southern border instead of housing them at facilities in the United States for immigration procedures.
Previously, unaccompanied children were sent to government-run shelters as they attempted to pursue their asylum claims.
Administration officials have argued that the policy, which has led to thousands of immigrants being promptly returned and deported at the border, is necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the United States and has been a key tool for border officers.
The draft amendment, if implemented, would change the reality on the ground for those coming from four countries that require negative COVID-19 tests for readmission, including for adults.
It is not known to which countries the draft decree refers. The project indicates that the changes have already been in place since the end of August.
“Apparently the four home countries will only accept the return of their citizens deported under the order if their citizens test negative for COVID-19,” says the amendment, written by CDC director Robert Redfield. “So at least for now, covered aliens who must test negative for COVID-19 before ICE can deport them directly to one of the four countries of origin should not be deported from the United States by the ECI. Redfield added that the number of people affected by the change is “relatively small”.
Instead of being quickly deported to their country of origin, adult immigrants could be treated normally and sent into ICE custody. But the amendment does not appear to explicitly prevent border officials from using CDC policy to promptly return adults from those countries to Mexico. Border officers have used the policy more than 140,000 times since March.
In the case of unaccompanied minors from the countries, the process would revert to the previous practice and they would go directly to a shelter of the Refugee Resettlement Office of the ICE custody.
“At first glance, this revised order looks mostly like an attempt to avoid an embarrassing defeat in court,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, political analyst at the American Immigration Council. “But on closer inspection, it is also remarkable that the CDC endorses the extreme views of the White House that public health laws can be used to allow ICE to deny rights to migrant children and to expel them quickly, even when they have already tested negative for COVID. -19. “
Before the pandemic, unaccompanied children picked up by border patrol officers were sent to the Refugee Resettlement Office, where they would be accommodated in shelters as they formally began to seek asylum and waited to be reunited with them. their family members in the United States.
But those removals fell precipitously after the CDC order was issued. Instead, unaccompanied children at the border are turned back and deported by DHS officials under the coronavirus order. The ORR referral process was created by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which was signed by then-President George W. Bush in 2008. By law, CBP officials are generally required to refer cases. children within 72 hours at the U.S. Refugee Agency.
“It is telling that it was not concern for asylum seekers that led the administration to realize that they could accept these migrants safely, but rather their interest in maintaining a flow for deportations.” Migration Policy Institute analyst Sarah Pierce told BuzzFeed News. “If the administration knows there are a number of migrants that it can safely deal with, why not go ahead with processing at least that number? Why limit it to migrants from these four countries? “
In recent weeks, however, the number of children referred to ORR has increased.
In late June, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, blocked the deportation of a 16-year-old Honduran boy under the CDC order. While the decision did not overturn the policy entirely, it was seen as a blow to the administration. Since then, the administration has said it no longer seeks to use the CDC’s order to remove him from the country.
The ACLU also filed a class action lawsuit in federal court to represent the children affected by the order.
Friday, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to stop holding immigrant children in hotels before promptly returning them to their home countries under pandemic border policy.
In August, ProPublica reported that the United States had agreements with 10 countries to return the children under the CDC order requiring a negative COVID-19 test before arrival.