The Trump administration is considering changing a pandemic-related border policy so that unaccompanied immigrant children no longer quickly return to four countries where they have to test negative for the coronavirus prior to entry. This is evident from a draft of the arrangement received from BuzzFeed News.
The draft would change an unprecedented arrangement by the CDC earlier this year that would allow border officials to ban immigrants on the southern border instead of placing them in immigration procedures facilities in the US.
Previously, unaccompanied children were taken to government-run shelters to pursue their asylum cases.
Administration officials have argued that the policy that has resulted in thousands of immigrants being quickly turned around and deported at the border is necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the US and has been a key tool for border officials.
The draft amendment, if implemented, would change the reality on the ground for those from four countries that require negative COVID-19 tests for re-entry, including adults.
It is unclear which countries the draft regulation refers to. The draft shows that the changes have been in place since the end of August.
“Apparently the four home countries will only accept the return of their expelled citizens under the Order if their citizens test negative for COVID-19,” said the amendment written by CDC director Robert Redfield. “At least for now, insured foreigners who have to test COVID-19 negative before ICE can expel them directly to one of the four home countries should not be expelled from the USA by ICE.” Redfield added that the number of people affected by the change was “relatively small”.
Instead of being deported quickly to their home countries, adult immigrants could be processed normally and taken into ICE custody. However, the change does not seem to specifically prevent border officials from using CDC policies to quickly get the adults from these countries back to Mexico. Border officials have applied the policy more than 140,000 times since March.
In the case of unaccompanied minors from the countries, the process would revert to previous practice and they would go straight out of ICE detention to a refugee resettlement office.
“At first glance, this revised order appears primarily to be an attempt to avoid embarrassing defeat in court,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a political scientist with the American Immigration Council. “But on closer inspection, it is also noteworthy that the CDC endorses the White House’s extreme views that public health laws can be used to have ICE deny migrant children rights and expel them quickly, even if they are already negative for COVID were tested -19. “
Prior to the pandemic, unaccompanied children picked up by border guards were sent to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, where they were placed in shelters, while they were officially applying for asylum and awaiting reunification with family members in the U.S.
However, these recommendations fell sharply after the CDC was awarded the contract. Instead, unaccompanied children are turned back and deported at the border by DHS officials under the coronavirus regulation. The ORR Referral System was created by the Re-Authorization of the Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking Act signed by then-President George W. Bush in 2008. By law, CBP officials generally have 72 hours to refer children to the U.S. refugee agency.
“It is significant that it is not about asylum seekers who drove the government to realize that they could take these migrants in safely, but rather about their interest in maintaining a flow for deportations,” said Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute BuzzFeed News. “If the administration knows there are a number of migrants that they can safely process, why not process at least that number? Why limit it to migrants from these four countries? “
However, in the past few weeks the number of children referred to ORR has increased.
In late June, US District Judge Carl Nichols, appointed by President Donald Trump, blocked the removal of a 16-year-old Honduran boy under CDC orders. Although the ruling did not completely undo politics, it was viewed as a blow to the administration. Since then, the government has said it has stopped trying to use the CDC order to remove him from the country.
The ACLU also filed a class action lawsuit in federal court to represent the children covered by the order.
On Friday, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to cease detaining immigrant children in hotels before quickly sending them back to their home countries as part of the pandemic border policy.
In August, ProPublica reported that the US had agreements with 10 countries to return children under CDC regulation who require a negative COVID-19 test before they arrive.