The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, citing coronavirus concerns, is removing unaccompanied children to countries where they fear violence and persecution. Nearly 400 children have been deported from the U.S.-Mexico border in the past two weeks, according to a Reuters review of government data. This is deeply troubling, and it is also a violation of children’s legal rights under federal law.
Children receive special protections under U.S. federal law and a consent decree known as the Flores Settlement Agreement. These protections appropriately recognize that children are uniquely vulnerable in our immigration system.
The Trump administration has long derided these safeguards as a “loophole.” It is disappointing but not at all surprising that the government would use the cover of a global pandemic to pursue its dangerous aims.
“Children do not have to be put in harm’s way to protect us from the coronavirus pandemic,” wrote leading lawmakers in the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, “DHS has the ability and capacity to protect both these children and the public.”
The government must take heed of the lawmakers’ demand to stop this removal practice immediately. And for children who are presently in custody, whether they are unaccompanied and detained in an Office of Refugee Resettlement facility or together with their parents in a family detention center, child welfare and legal standards compel the need for speedy release to waiting sponsors, particularly in this time of public health crisis. Children deserve homes, not detention.
Read the Reuters report.
Read the Congressional letter to DHS.