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Federal Judge Blocks Trump Order That Has Already Led to 'Illegal' Expulsion of 13,000 Unaccompanied Children

"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."

"We are thrilled that the court has enjoined this cruel policy, which has placed thousands of vulnerable refugee children in harm's way," said Jamie Crook, director of litigation at the Center for Gender & Refuge. (Photo: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered a halt to a Trump administration directive that leaned on an unprecedented use of a federal statute to take advantage of the coronavirus crisis to justify expelling unaccompanied migrant children.

"Today's ruling affirms that the Trump administration cannot use the pandemic as a pretext to flout its legal obligations to children fleeing persecution."
—Jamie Crook, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
"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. 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," said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney in the case.

The ruling from Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia stems from class-action lawsuit filed in August by the ACLU along with the Texas Civil Rights Project, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, and Oxfam. The groups challenged what they called the administration's "Title 42 Process," referring to a provision of the Public Health Service Act that allows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to—"in the interest of the public health"—seal the border to stop the entry of any communicable disease. 

According to the Associated Press's previous reporting, that effort was pushed by the administration's right-wing immigration architect Stephen Miller and was resisted by CDC officials who were overruled by Vice President Mike Pence.

In their lawsuit, the rights groups called the "administration's use of Title 42... a transparent end-run around Congress's considered decision to provide protection to children and others fleeing danger even where communicable disease is a concern—and to address that concern through testing and quarantines, not deportations."

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The preliminary injunction was welcomed by the other groups in the filing.

"We are thrilled that the court has enjoined this cruel policy, which has placed thousands of vulnerable refugee children in harm's way," said Jamie Crook, director of litigation at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies. "Today's ruling affirms that the Trump administration cannot use the pandemic as a pretext to flout its legal obligations to children fleeing persecution."

Karla Marisol Vargas, senior attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, similarly applauded the injunction.

"It has taken months and a suit against the government to confirm what we already knew: the Trump administration cannot weaponize a pandemic to destroy long established protections for children with a shadow system of zero-accountability," Vargas said. "We will continue to keep this administration, and the next, in check."

Just before the November 3 election, a spokesperson for the Joe Biden campaign told CBS News that the incoming administration "would direct the CDC and DHS to review this policy and make the appropriate changes to ensure that people have the ability to submit their asylum claims while ensuring that we are taking the appropriate Covid-19 safety precautions, as guided by the science and public health experts."

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