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'Unconscionable': ICE Deported 33 Unaccompanied Guatemalan Children After Judge Ordered Halt to Practice

"It is not out of the power of the district court, if someone could raise the matter, to order ICE to return the children that it removed on that flight," said one legal expert. 

Guatemalan deportees arrive in Guatemala City on a Department of Homeland Security plane on March 12, 2020. (Photo: Johan Ordoñez/AFP/Getty Images)

A Department of Homeland Security deportation flight sits on the tarmac after landing at a military airfield in Guatemala City on March 12, 2020. (Photo: Johan Ordoñez/AFP/Getty Images) 

The Trump administration last week deported dozens of Guatemalan children who unlawfully entered the United States without their parents, just minutes after a federal judge ordered a stop to such expulsions, BuzzFeed News revealed on Tuesday.  

Last Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan issued a preliminary injunction against a Trump administration directive ordering the deportation of unaccompanied minors under the guise of public health. However, minutes after the injunction's issuance, 33 Guatemalan minors aboard a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) flight departed from an unspecified American airport bound for Guatemala City.

An ICE official acknowledged to BuzzFeed News that the deportation flight left "shortly before ICE was informed of the court's injunction," and that agency officials were unaware of the court order until after the plane landed in Guatemala. However, one immigration expert said that does not mean ICE could not—or should not—bring the expelled minors back to the U.S.

"It is unconscionable that [ICE officials] are leaving the kids there and that they did not immediately bring them back," Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, told BuzzFeed News, adding that "the expulsion is not only putting kids on the plane and taking off, it is also placing them in another country."


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Pratheepan Gulasekaram, a professor at Santa Clara University Law School, told BuzzFeed that "it is not out of the power of the district court, if someone could raise the matter, to order ICE to return the children that it removed on that flight."

However, Gulasekaram said it could be difficult to locate the children in Guatemala. Attorneys and other advocates trying to reuinte the families of 666 minors seized from their parents after unlawfully entering the U.S. together have found it difficult if not impossible to find people deported without their children. 

Sullivan's injunction concerned Title 42, a public health provision critics allege is being abused by the Trump administration under the pretext of protecting the public during the coronavirus pandemic. The judge's ruling noted that while Title 42 empowers the government to bar entry of noncitizens who carry diseases, it does not allow for the deportation of such people. 

Besides, some critics argue, the U.S. has both the highest number of coronavirus infections and Covid-19 deaths in the world by far, casting serious doubt on the government's claim of protecting public health. Stephen Miller, President Donald Trump's nativist immigration policy adviser, and other administration hard-liners have reportedly pushed for Title 42 expulsions. 

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