The Trump administration has quietly stopped its controversial practice of holding migrant children in hotels before expelling them from the southern border, though it says these minors can still be quickly removed from U.S. soil under emergency coronavirus restrictions.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has not held migrant minors in border-area hotels since September 11, an agency spokesperson told CBS News on Thursday. The confirmation of the previously undisclosed policy shift follows a court declaration, signed on September 17, in which ICE official Mellissa Harper said the number of migrant minors who were awaiting expulsion at a hotel had dwindled to zero.
Despite this shift, unaccompanied children and families with minors who cross or arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border without documents — just like single adults — can still be expelled from the country under a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) directive issued in March, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesperson Matthew Dyman told CBS News on Thursday.
“The CDC order allows for everyone to be amenable to expulsion,” Dyman said. “Anyone can be infected with COVID.”
Taylor Levy, an independent immigration attorney in El Paso, said she continues to receive cases of unaccompanied children whom border officials seek to expel. On Thursday, Levy said she helped halt the expulsions of two Central American teenagers who are now going to be allowed to stay in the U.S. while their immigration cases are adjudicated.
“The true problem here is not the hotels, it’s the expulsions,” Taylor told CBS News. “Just because DHS has stopped using hotels does not mean that children are not being expeditiously expelled without any due process, without any chance to seek asylum.”
It is unclear why exactly U.S. immigration officials closed, at least temporarily, their unprecedented border hotel detention system for migrant children, which was overseen by personnel from MVM, an ICE contractor. ICE did not provide an explanation or say whether it would resume its use of hotels, saying in a statement it could not provide further comment due to ongoing litigation.
“Any temporary housing of minors will comply with all legal requirements,” an ICE spokesperson said.
On September 4, Judge Dolly Gee of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles ordered the Trump administration to stop holding migrant children in hotels, absent limited three-day stays, finding that the makeshift detention system violated the Flores Settlement Agreement, which stipulates that undocumented minors in U.S. custody need to have access to lawyers, safe and sanitary facilities and other safeguards while the government seeks their prompt release.
But that ruling is not in effect due to several orders by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has placed an administrative stay on Gee’s mandate. On Wednesday, a three-member panel of 9th Circuit judges extended the stay to next Monday.
During a hearing Wednesday, Judge Marsha Berzon, one of the members