President Donald Trump’s administration has expelled about 8,800 unaccompanied migrant children intercepted at the U.S.-Mexico border since March 20 under rules seeking to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus in the United States, according to court documents filed Friday by the Justice Department.
The administration had declined to disclose the numbers since June, when it said about 2,000 children had been expelled. Immigration advocates had argued that many more were likely subject to the rules, but the scope of the expulsions was not clear until Friday.
The administration implemented new border rules on March 21 that scrapped decades-old practices under laws meant to protect children from human trafficking and offer them a chance to seek asylum in a U.S. immigration court. The administration said the emergency rules were designed to avert coronavirus outbreaks inside migrant holding facilities and among the broader U.S. population.
Since then, U.S. officials have been quickly removing migrants, including unaccompanied minors, without standard immigration proceedings.
Inside a holding centre for migrant children
Trump, seeking re-election on Nov. 3, has taken a hard line toward legal and illegal immigration as president.
Immigration advocates have argued that the new regulations put migrants, especially children, at grave risk. The federal government has been holding them for days or sometimes weeks in hotels with unlicensed contractors to look after them. Attorneys have said the children’s personal information is not recorded in the usual computer systems, making them almost impossible to track.
In June, U.S. Customs and Border Protection chief Mark Morgan said that about 2,000 unaccompanied children had been expelled under the order.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the administration over the order in June, and the agency has declined to update the numbers since then, citing pending litigation.
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The government produced the figures in a Justice Department filing to the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals objecting to a Sept. 4 order that it stop holding children in hotels before expelling them.
In addition to expelling about 8,800 children, the government said it had expelled 159,000 migrants overall, and 7,600 family units.
(Reporting by Mimi Dwyer; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Will Dunham)