About 8,800 unaccompanied migrant children have been expelled from the US under a pandemic-related measure, authorities said Friday.
The Trump administration has expelled more than 159,000 people since the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) implemented a policy that effectively ended asylum in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The figures were reported for the first time by Border Patrol deputy chief Raul Ortiz, as part of the Trump administration's appeal of an order to stop housing children in hotels. Before the pandemic, unaccompanied children were sent to state-licensed shelters that were run by the Department of Health and Human Services before they were typically released to family members while seeking asylum.
Read more: Stuck at border, migrants still hope for asylum in US
Since the CDC's order, officials have quickly removed migrants without standard immigration proceedings.
Hard line against immigration, hard hit by virus
The Trump administration asked the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a ruling last week that stated the use of hotels skirted "fundamental humanitarian protections." US District Judge Dolly Gee said using hotels for long-term detention violated a settlement on the treatment of children in custody and ordered border agencies to stop placing children in the hotels by Tuesday.
But Justice Department attorneys said the decision should not apply during the pandemic.
"While in these hotels, the government provides minors with supervision by specialists, recreation, amenities, and protective measures against COVID-19," wrote the attorneys.
The Trump administration has taken a hard stance against immigrants entering the country, even if it is to legally seek asylum. The US government allowed for the indefinite detention of migrant children, even if they arrived with their family. The previous rule allowed migrant children to be held for up to 20 days.
Immigration reform advocates have stated that the new regulations have put children at grave risk. Attorneys have said the children's personal information is not recorded in usual computer systems, which makes it difficult to track them.
The US has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with the most confirmed cases of any country in the world. There have been more than 6 million confirmed cases of the illness in the US since the pandemic began.
kbd/rc (AP, Reuters)