Coronavirus and the States: Unaccompanied Minors Can Now Be Sent Home; Feds Relax Health Care Rules

By: - April 1, 2020 12:00 am

A pedestrian wears a protective mask as he passes the entrance to the McAllen Hidalgo International Bridge in Hidalgo, Texas. The Trump administration has reversed protections for children from Central America found alone at the border. Eric Gay/The Associated Press

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As the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, the Trump administration has reversed long-established protections for children from Central America found alone at the border.

Unaccompanied children caught at the border may now be sent back to their home countries, despite a long-established policy that they be turned over to host families in the United States during court proceedings, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection policy sent to Stateline.

The policy helped fuel a surge of Central American immigration dating back to the Obama administration as children fled gang violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, often arriving alone to join mothers who had found work to support them in the United States. A 2008 law, enacted during the Bush administration, required that the children be transferred to U.S. homes to avoid putting them back into the hands of traffickers at the border.

Immigration advocates said the new policy, framed as a response to a March 20 order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suspending travel from countries with coronavirus cases, is unfair to children seeking protection from violence.

“Sending back vulnerable children who are seeking refuge in the U.S. is not only a violation of the law, but inhumane,” said Jennifer Anzardo Valdes, director of the children’s legal program at Americans for Immigrant Justice, a Miami-based legal clinic.

Randy Capps, the director of research for U.S. programs at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, said the new policy maintains that the CDC order invalidates protections under the 2008 law, a claim that will likely be settled in court.

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which calls for lower levels of immigration, defended the border patrol policy.

“It’s impossible for these illegal arrivals to be screened for infection by the coronavirus, so putting kids through the standard processing would risk transmission of the disease to agents, staff and other kids,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for CIS.

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Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson

Tim Henderson covers demographics for Stateline. He has been a reporter at the Miami Herald, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Journal News.