Trump administration officials ejected nearly 9,000 unaccompanied migrant children from the U.S. without court hearings — taking no precautions to protect them from traffickers.
Border Patrol Deputy Chief Raoul Ortiz revealed in a court declaration Friday that 8,800 unaccompanied minors have ben kicked out of the country since March 20 because of COVID-19 health restrictions, CBS News was the first to report.
Department of Homeland Security officials have suspended humanitarian protections for most migrants crossing the border, claiming that public health law takes precedence over asylum, immigration and anti-trafficking safeguards during a pandemic, according to CBS.
Before the mass expulsions, unaccompanied children were sent to the U.S. refugee agency, which is required under a 2008 anti-trafficking law. But compliance with the law has been suspended.
Ironically, President Donald Trump has boasted that his administration is putting “unprecedented pressure on sex traffickers at home and abroad. My administration is fighting these monsters ... We’ve had a tremendous track record,” he bragged In January, less than two months before his officials simply sent away thousands of unaccompanied migrant children.
The number of ejected minors was revealed in a court case challenging the government’s current secret use of hotels to temporarily house children, who are guarded by contractors untrained to deal with them.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee ruled that detaining the children in hotel was unsafe and failed to “adequately account for the vulnerability of unaccompanied minors in detention.” She ordered the government to stop the practice by September 15.
But Trump administration lawyers have argued that the hotels are needed because department facilities are already overcrowded and more children will increase the risk of COVID-19. They’re asking California’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to block Gee’s order.
“The numbers are stunning,” Lindsay Toczylowski, the executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center, told CBS News. “To find out that our government has literally taken children who are seeking protection and sent them back to the very places they fled in such high numbers really took my breath away.”
In addition to the children ejected from the U.S., some 7,600 members of migrant families with children have also been forced back over the U.S.-Mexico border since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a public health order authorizing the action in March. A total of more than 159,000 expulsions have been carried out since the historic restrictions.