Immigration activists warn that the Trump administration has weaponized coronavirus against legitimate asylum-seekers, including children.
The Trump administration is being sued for its pandemic-time immigration policies, which permit the expulsion of migrants apprehended at the border without giving them a chance to apply for asylum.
Since President Trump’s declaration of a public health emergency in March, the White House has authorized immigrant enforcement to turn back nearly all prospective migrants from the border. The administration has defended its policy by citing a 1944 public health law, which allows the federal government to deport or refuse entry to non-citizens who may spread disease or infection during a time of national emergency.
While Trump invoked the law in March, he extended the expulsion provision indefinitely in May. The president’s order overrides existing immigration laws and protections, including foreigners’ right to apply for asylum if they have a credible fear of persecution if deported.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a 16-year old Honduran boy, identified in proceedings only as J.B.B.C.
“The administration is free to go to Congress if it doesn’t like the asylum laws,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants Rights Project.
J.B.B.C, says the Journal, would have been turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services under ordinary circumstances.
The DHHS, adds the WSJ, runs a network of migrant shelters meant especially for children. Afterward, the department would have tried to locate J.B.B.C. a suitable guardian. But with the public health mandate still in effect, J.B.B.C. was detained by Border Patrol agents, who plan to deport him without consultation or the chance to plea for asylum.
The ACLU, in filing its lawsuit, has admitted it may not win the case—and that, if anything, suing the government poses a significant risk. If the ACLU loses, and a court finds that the Trump administration can bypass ordinary law in exceptional circumstances, then the White House will be broadly empowered to take more action against extant immigration policy.
Nevertheless, immigration activists say intervention is their only choice, the alternative being that the Trump administration continues to effect deportations regardless.
“If the courts don’t step in, the Trump administration will continue to indefinitely strip refugees of the right to asylum,” said American Immigration Council policy counsel Aaron Reichlin-Melnick.
LegalReader has previously reported immigration activists’ complaints that hardliners within the Trump administration have weaponized coronavirus against migrants. White House policy adviser Stephen Miller—an outspoken immigration critic—has all but admitted that the administration is using the pandemic to push immigration restrictions that might otherwise encounter substantial public pushback.