Under cover of COVID-19, Trump Administration accelerates deportation of immigrant children 


May 28, 2020

Under the cover of COVID-19, the Trump Administration has accelerated its practice of separating immigrant families and deporting even young children, even in the middle of the night and without their parents’ knowledge. 

In March and April, the latest months for which figures are available, nearly 1,000 children have been deported. The Trump Administration is callously taking advantage of a 1944 law that grants the president broad power to block foreigners from entering the country in order to prevent the “serious threat” of a dangerous disease. But they have taken matters even further – for example, deporting immigrant children and teenagers who were already in the United States when the Administration’s new order was announced in late March. 

Nearly 1,000 children have been deported in March and April.

The new, Draconian immigration policy has received coverage in such publications as The New York Timesthe Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. However, there is little evidence that the cruel policy has permeated the consciousness of many Americans in the same way the Administration’s earlier efforts to separate families did when they evoked outrage (and may have even influenced the outcome of some 2018 U.S. House races). 

And that is hardly a surprise: there has been scant coverage, if any, of the new policy on network newscasts, which are dominated by the rising number of COVID-19 deaths, the staggering economy, and the debate over whether and/or when states should allow normal activities to resume. 

But immigrant advocates are outraged, and are raising alarms. 

“The government’s cruelty toward immigrant children knows no bounds,” said Faith Williams, Associate Director, Government Relations & Advocacy, National Council of Jewish Women, Inc. and Co-Chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition. “This country, and our faith communities, rose up mightily before, when Trump’s border policies were ripping migrant children from their families. We must realize that it’s still going on and we have to stop it. Children are being sent to places where they have no one, and they cannot take care of themselves. Congress and the courts must step in immediately to stop this child abuse.” 

In a statement, the Interfaith Immigration Coalition listed several examples of the danger and abuse the Trump Administration is inflicting upon immigrant children: 

Ten year-old Gerson was deported to Honduras, alone, after attempting to request asylum in the United States while his mother waited, distressed and panicked, in Mexico. She had sent him forward hoping he had a better chance of gaining safety in the U.S. on his own, and would eventually be allowed to stay with an uncle in Houston. Instead, the young boy was deported in less than a week, “confused about how he had ended up back in the dangerous place he fled.” 

A Honduran boy is hiding in a relative’s home after being deported, while his mother remains stuck in Mexico seeking asylum. The pandemic halted travel for her, but not her son’s deportation flight. He is unsafe in Honduras, having been abused for his sexual orientation.  

Despite having an adult brother who begged to take care of her in North Carolina, a sixteen year-old girl was deported to Guatemala after being shuttled from hotel to hotel across the United States, in the government’s attempt to keep her away from her lawyers. From the Los Angeles Times: “The 16-year-old had taken three flights in less than two weeks and stayed in a string of strange hotel rooms across the southern United States amid a pandemic in which public health officials recommended limiting travel and sheltering in place. 

Two girls, who fled for their lives after persecution and abuse ages 8 and 11, were nearly deported by themselves to El Salvador, where they have no one, despite the fact that their mother is alive and able to care for them in Houston. 

Fourteen year-old Jenny has been living in a New York shelter while her immigration case works its way through the courts. Her father was murdered in Honduras and her mother is stuck in Mexico due to Trump’s crackdown on asylum-seekers. Jenny would have no one to take care of her in Honduras. Yet the government still came to her shelter in May and tried to deport her, until they were blocked by a federal court order. 

Jenny was lucky, though. Some children who have had their cases reopened in immigration court were stealthily deported without their attorneys’ knowledge, so that they could not exercise the legal rights they won in court. 

Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Image

The New York Times reports that the Administration’s policy represents an “extraordinary shift” from previous policy maintained by both Democratic and Republican presidents. Notes the Times: 

“Historically, young migrants who showed up at the border without adult guardians were provided with shelter, education, medical care, and a lengthy administrative process that allowed them to make a case for staying in the United States. Those who were eventually deported were sent home only after arrangements had been made to assure they had a safe place to return to.” 

The newspaper reported that some young migrant children have been deported within hours of setting foot upon U.S. soil – and others have been rousted from bed in the middle of the night in U.S. government shelters and put on planes out of the country without their families being informed. 

Maybe many Americans are failing to take notice of the new policy, with everything else going on. But immigrant advocates are certainly paying attention. 

“We’ve said it before and we repeat again now: Family separation is reprehensible,” said the Rev. Terri Hord Owens, General Minister & President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). “Societies are judged by how we treat the least in our communities, and that also includes the very youngest and the elderly. COVID-19 has laid bare long-existing injustices in our society. We must stand for others as never before, so that we emerge and move forward from this time as a better, more just society.”

So what can we do to stop the inhumane practice of separating families and deporting children? For starters, we can sign this petition sponsored by Families Belong Together. And if you are in Texas, the group Doctors for American will be hosting 24-hour vigils from 9 a.m. Friday, May 29 to 9 a.m. Saturday, May 30 at ICE facilities just outside of Houston and San Antonio. You can read more here.