National Security

DHS whistleblowers blame Trump border policy for increased child detention

Courtesy photo

Two government whistleblowers are urging the Biden administration to end its use of a Trump-era policy that allows for swift expulsion of adults at the border due to the coronavirus. 

The two physicians who are experts in detention health for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) argue that Title 42 is responsible for the surge of minors in government custody, as border agents immediately turn away would-be adult migrants and asylum-seekers.

“The implementation of Title 42 … is having the perhaps unintended, but wholly predictable, consequence of creating a churn of children who will be foreseeably held in detention. Since unaccompanied minors are exempted from Title 42, families with children are either remaining in unsafe conditions on the Mexican side of the border, or increasingly, are sending minor children on ahead to cross the border alone,” Scott Allen and Pamela McPherson wrote in a letter to several congressional committees.

Theirs is the latest call for the Biden administration to scrap Title 42. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi issued a plea last week urging the U.S. to end the policy. 

As of Sunday, the government had nearly 19,000 children in its custody, though 18,000 are in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services while the government seeks to place them with relatives or sponsors.

Allen and McPherson have warned prior administrations of the risks of long-term detention on children.

Title 42 is one of the few immigration policies the Biden administration has retained from the Trump era. In April, the Biden administration used Title 42 to remove more than 110,000 people — more than 62 percent of all people apprehended at the southern border.

“ICE is concerned that the loss of Title 42 could create additional pressure on our immigration system,” acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Tae Johnson said at a recent hearing, nodding to litigation from the American Civil Liberties Association. He called the rule “critical” to maintaining social distance in border facilities.

“I don’t think it’s a situation where it’s going to just be lifted electively. We would be mandated by some sort of court order to lift it,” he said.

DHS did not respond to request for comment on the letter.

But critics argue the U.S. could be taking other measures to screen for the coronavirus rather than blanket deportations.

“There is even less of a public health justification now, when, more than a year later, arriving asylum seekers could be easily screened and tested, and currently those over 16 vaccinated, in a way that protects the public health,” the whistleblowers wrote in their letter.

“The COVID-19 pandemic no longer requires the blunt instrument of Title 42, especially while that policy has the consequence of forcing asylum seeking families to choose the ‘lesser’ risk of sending their unaccompanied minor children into the U.S. detention system over the risks of violence in their own countries and the Mexico border that have driven them to seek asylum in the first place,” they continued.

“Title 42 forces this choice among asylum seeking families, and by consequence, it not only creates a flow of children into U.S. detention, but also results in de facto separation of children from their families, just on the Mexican side of the border,” they added. 

Tags Detention Immigration Title 42 Unaccompanied minors
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