US appeals judge's order barring expulsions of migrant children

The United States on Wednesday appealed a judge's order barring expulsions of migrant children who crossed the border alone, The Associated Press reports. 

The Department of Justice filed a notice of appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, according to the news outlet. It also asked the court to issue a stay of the order pending appeal.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan issued a preliminary junction earlier this month in a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security. The injunction was sought by legal groups suing on behalf of children the federal government tried to deport before they could request asylum or other protections. 

The order only applied to the deportation of children who crossed the border without a parent.

In its Wednesday filing, the Justice Department cited the spread of the coronavirus in communities in Texas and Arizona along the border, the AP reports. It said the order "likely will have an irreversible impact on public health" by straining hospital capacity and forcing the government to move "potentially infected" children through airports. 

The Trump administration issued an emergency declaration in March allowing the federal government to send migrants back to Mexico or their home countries within hours of being detained and without providing the opportunity to request asylum. 

The administration has said the policy is meant to protect border authorities and those in immigration custody from contracting the virus. Opponents have accused the administration of using the pandemic to unlawfully restrict immigration. 

The AP reported in October that Vice President Pence reportedly ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use its emergency powers to close the borders, despite top scientists saying there was no evidence saying that doing so would reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

At least 8,800 unaccompanied children have been deported since March, according to the AP. Nearly 200,000 people, including parents and children traveling together, have been expelled since March.