While a judge blocked a deportation order, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service put 33 unaccompanied immigrant children on a deportation flight back to Guatemala City last Wednesday.
U.S. Judge Emmet Sullivan had issued an order blocking the Trump administration from using Title 42, a public health provision, to deport undocumented immigrants from the U.S. on the grounds of the coronavirus pandemic.
As BuzzFeed explained, an ICE official confirmed that the flight left “shortly before ICE was informed of the court’s injunction” and that agency officials on the ground did not learn of the judge’s order until the flight had landed and Guatemalan authorities were greeting the children.
“We are aware of the situation and are looking into it. Hopefully, no child is being denied the benefit of the ruling,” said Lee Gelernt, an ACLU attorney who led the lawsuit that resulted in the preliminary injunction blocking the policy.
The expulsion of the 33 children happening on the same day of Sullivan’s order could force the agency to bring back the children because it violated the judge’s decision, legal experts said.
“It is unconscionable that they are leaving the kids there and that they did not immediately bring them back,” said Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. Even if the flight took off before ICE officials knew, she added, “the removal is not only putting kids on the plane and taking off, it is also placing them in another country.
A federal court order, the media continued, could force the government to return the children, even if ICE objects on the grounds of practical difficulties in tracking and locating the 33 children.
“If the Title 42 order were to be undone by the court or the next administration, especially in the midst of a surging pandemic, ICE will be forced to increase transportation operations, conducting the escorts of individuals and unaccompanied children using commercial airlines and ground transportation, as appropriate,” the ICE official said. “This poses an increased risk to the general public aboard commercial airlines as the Title 42 order was enacted to mitigate the public health risks of aliens attempting to unlawfully enter the United States in the midst of the pandemic.”
However, as some critics point out, the United States has the highest number of coronavirus infections and COVID-19 deaths globally, which contradicts the administration’s argument for using Title 42 left and right to speed up the deportation process for undocumented persons.