HOUSTON (AP) — A federal appeals court on Friday ruled that the U.S. government could resume expelling immigrant children who cross the southern border unaccompanied by a parent.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit’s stay of a lower court ruling allows President Joe Biden’s administration to resume expulsions begun by former President Donald Trump under a public health policy citing the COVID-19 pandemic. The appeals court issued a stay that had been requested by the Trump administration shortly after a federal judge in November barred the practice.
All three judges on the panel that issued Friday’s order were nominated by Trump, who enacted newly restrictive measures on immigration throughout his presidency. The judges are Gregory Katsas, Neomi Rao and Justin Walker.
Trump’s Republican administration instituted expulsions early in the pandemic, saying it had to restrict border crossings to prevent the spread of the virus, though public health officials later said they were told to issue an order allowing the expulsions by former Vice President Mike Pence. Border agents conducted more than 180,000 expulsions in just the last three months of 2020.
Immigration agencies have continued expelling most border crossers — adults as well as parents and children together — in Biden’s first days. The Democrat has signaled he will roll back other Trump administration policies restricting immigration, but his advisers have also said they are concerned about allowing all migrants to cross the border immediately. It’s unclear whether Biden will implement expulsions of unaccompanied children now.
At least 8,800 children were known to have been expelled prior to the federal court order. They included children as young as 9 who were denied the chance to request asylum or other protections under U.S. law. Many children, including some babies with their parents, were detained in hotels in border states before being placed on deportation flights before another judge barred that practice.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not immediately comment, nor did the U.S. Department of Justice.
American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Lee Gelernt called the appeals court’s ruling a “temporary setback.”
“We will continue to litigate this case on behalf of these vulnerable unaccompanied children, who are in need of protection and legally entitled to apply for asylum,” Gelernt said in a statement. “But we hope the Biden administration will not make ongoing litigation necessary by rescinding this illegal policy created by the Trump administration.”