US accused of using Covid as excuse to deny children their right to asylum

Since tighter migration controls were announced in March, US has deported more than 1,400 unaccompanied minors to Guatemala

US authorities have radically accelerated the expulsion of unaccompanied children to Guatemala, but advocates accuse the Trump administration of using the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to rob vulnerable youngsters of asylum protections enshrined in US and international law.

Since tighter migration controls were announced in March, the US has deported more than 1,400 unaccompanied minors to Guatemala, according to data from the Guatemalan Migration Institute. A total of 407 children were expelled in October alone.

In comparison, in the whole of 2019, the US deported 385 unaccompanied minors to Guatemala.

US officials cited the threat of coronavirus when they invoked Title 42, a previously obscure clause of the 1944 Public Health Services Law, to justify the crackdown.

The law, which gives the government the power to take emergency action to prevent “introduction of communicable diseases”, orders the immediate expulsion of migrants detained between ports of entry. It also denies nearly everyone who arrives at the border the ability to apply for asylum.

Migration legal advocates argue the measure violates migrants’ rights to access the asylum process.

“Without a court order currently blocking the Trump administration from subjecting unaccompanied children to these rapid expulsions, children continue to be denied their right to seek protection in the United States,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a lawyer and policy counsel with the American Immigration Council.

“Under the Title 42 expulsion process the government has argued that public health laws override all normal immigration laws, and allows them to deport children without ever giving them their right to seek protection,” he said. “The Trump administration has taken what are generalized quarantine powers and interpreted into the powers the authority to expel people and override normal immigration law, which is why we say this is an unlawful policy.”

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Jeff Abbott in Guatemala City