The Trump administration has stepped up deportations of minors detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents along the U.S.-Mexican border amid the coronavirus outbreak and in some cases has reportedly sent minors back to their home countries without notifying parents.
The New York Times reported that more than 900 undocumented minors have been flown to their home countries in recent weeks as the Trump administration has virtually shut down immigration, citing the dangers of the ongoing pandemic.
Some children have left the country without any notice to their parents or extended families, raising questions from experts about the Trump administration's efforts to ensure that children do not fall into the hands of human traffickers.
“The fact that nobody knows who these kids are and there are hundreds of them is really terrifying,” Jennifer Nagda, policy director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, told the Times. “There’s no telling if they’ve been returned to smugglers or into harm’s way.”
One family of a Honduran child who was deported in recent weeks told the Times that their son arrived in the country without any notice, and was forced to borrow a cellphone after arriving to contact a family member.
A counselor representing the family told the Times that “[t]here were two or three days we had no idea where he was" after he arrived in the U.S. before he was deported, as federal officials allegedly gave no details despite frequent requests from family members for details about his location.
A Department of Homeland Security spokesman contended to the Times that the administration's policies for deporting unattended minors had not changed.
The agency's acting secretary, Chad Wolf, told the Times that the administration's coronavirus-related border restrictions were “one of the most critical tools the department has used to prevent the further spread of the virus and to protect the American people, DHS front-line officers and those in their care and custody from COVID-19.”