While the government does not recognize the severity of the COVID-19 crisis in protecting its citizens, the Trump Administration has taken advantage of the pandemic to deport more than 159,000 immigrants since March 20, including 9,000 children.
As reported by CNN, a Friday court statement by Deputy U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz revealed the number of immigrants expelled since the Trump administration invoked the public health law to implement new restrictions on the border.
The Border Patrol official’s file, initially reported by CBS News, reveals the scope of the government’s public health restrictions, which only appear to affect undocumented immigrants.
As CNN continues, the statement was presented as part of the government’s appeal of a recent court ruling on a controversial aspect of the coronavirus restrictions: the increasing use of hotels to detain migrant children instead of licensed, decent facilities.
On August 21, activists denounced the detention of unaccompanied migrant children in hotels, where they were held before being “quickly” expelled from the country, as reported by Vox.
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union attempted to block the government’s action through a federal judge, trying to have the children transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) shelters licensed to administer children’s care and allow them to file applications for protection in the country.
However, the Department of Homeland Security did not disclose where the children are located, and they are also frequently moved from one facility to another.
Last week, District Judge Dolly M. Gee ruled that detaining migrant children in hotels was unsafe and did not “adequately account for the vulnerability of unaccompanied minors in detention. She has ordered the government to stop the practice by September 15.
But Ortiz and other U.S. officials argue that doing so will put the public at risk, interfere with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention efforts to contain Covid-19, and increase the likelihood that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and others caring for children in custody could contract coronavirus. They are asking California’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to block Gee’s order.
In his declaration on Friday, Ortiz stated that being forced to stop detaining migrant children in hotels would cause “three significant problems” for the government: crowding and an increased risk of Covid-19 exposure in Border Patrol facilities, an increased risk of Covid-19 exposure in Health and Human Services and Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities and the straining of an “already overburdened system.
Similarly, Justice Department attorneys argued that the so-called Flores agreement, which has established specific protocols for the treatment of minors in custody for two decades, does not apply during a public health emergency and that hotels were appropriate.
“While in these hotels, the government provides minors with supervision by specialists, recreation, amenities, and protective measures against COVID-19,” the attorneys wrote.
As TIME explained, and before the pandemic, unaccompanied children were sent to state-licensed shelters operated by the Department of Health and Human Services and often released to family members while seeking asylum.
This is no longer the case.