The US government on Wednesday appealed against a judge’s order to ban the expulsion of immigrant children who crossed the border alone. This policy was enacted during the coronavirus pandemic to deny asylum protection to children.
Judge Emmet Sullivan issued a restraining order on November 18, requested by immigrant attorneys who prohibited the expulsion of unaccompanied children under public health law.
The Justice Department appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Wednesday night. It also asked Sullivan to suspend the restraining order pending appeal, a motion he had previously denied.
Since March, border officials have expelled 200,000 immigrant adults and children, citing the pandemic and the need to prevent the virus from spreading, despite the fact that COVID-19 is widespread in border communities and across the country.
Sullivan’s orders were only for children crossing the line without a parent, and not for adults or parents and children. At least 8,800 unaccompanied children have been deported without being able to apply for asylum or speak to a lawyer. Most people were expelled within hours or days, despite the fact that the Trump administration detained hundreds of children in hotels near the U.S.-Mexico border for weeks until another judge banned the practice.
President-elect Joe Biden has announced that he will reverse several of President Donald Trump’s immigration programs when he takes office in January. Biden has not stated whether he will stop the deportation of immigrants.
In its filing on Wednesday night, the Justice Department cited the spread of the virus in border communities in Arizona and Texas. It warned that Sullivan’s order “is likely to have irreversible public health effects” by straining hospital capacity and forcing the government to bring “potentially infected” children and teenagers across airports.
The Associated Press reported Oct. 3 that top officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were opposed to making an emergency statement allowing expulsion of immigrants because there was no public health basis, but that Vice President Mike Pence did ordered the agency to move forward anyway.
Immigration advocates who petitioned for the restraining order say the government has the ability to protect children and border guards at the same time. They argue that the Trump administration is using the pandemic as an excuse to crack down on immigrants.
“There is no basis for this cruel, unprecedented policy to take effect given the harm these young children would suffer if they were sent back and the readily available ways to safely house the children,” said Lee Gelernt, attorney the American Civil Liberties Union, in an email.