A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the Trump administration to stop deporting unaccompanied children entering the U.S., a practice that border officials have escalated amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Judge Emmet Sullivan of the federal district court in D.C. issued a preliminary injunction in a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The suit was filed by a 16-year-old boy from Guatemala who was designated for summary deportation after entering the country in August.
The Trump administration implemented a new expulsion process earlier this year, citing the coronavirus pandemic, that allowed border officials to deport unaccompanied noncitizen minors without any procedural process to challenge the removal.
The administration has said in court that it has deported at least 8,800 children since the new system was implemented in March.
Sullivan, who was appointed by former President Clinton, said in his order on Wednesday that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed in the lawsuit because he is skeptical of the government's argument that it has the authority to deport noncitizens under existing public health laws.
Sullivan's order on Wednesday adopted a recommendation from Magistrate Judge Michael Harvey, who found last month that the government's pandemic deportation system is likely unlawful.
"Plaintiff’s position is supported not only by the somewhat abstract public interest in faithful execution of federal law but also by more concrete public interests in preventing aliens from wrongful removal from the United States to countries where they are likely to be persecuted," Harvey wrote.
A DHS spokesman said that even though Americans "have drastically changed their lives to abide by state and local lockdown orders, forgoing traveling short distances and seeing loved ones for months, ... an activist judge has demanded that illegal aliens be introduced into the United States in the tens of thousands, spread across the country on planes and busses, and cause the overflow of community hospitals, particularly at the border."
Chase Jennings in an email called the decision "dangerous," adding that it is "the propagation of one judge’s agenda thousands of miles away from the border, in the face of science and the law, with total disregard for the health of those whose lives will be affected"
“Today’s ruling is a critical step in halting the Trump administration’s unprecedented and illegal attempt to expel children under the thin guise of public health," Lee Gelernt, an ACLU attorney representing the plaintiff, said in a statement. "The administration’s order has already allowed for the rapid expulsion of more than 13,000 children in need of protection, who were legally entitled to apply for asylum."