By Ted Hesson and Mica Rosenberg
WASHINGTON / NEW YORK, Apr 7 (Reuters) – Nearly 400 migrant children intercepted at the Mexican border have been quickly deported in the past two weeks by US immigration authorities, under new rules seeking to limit the spread of the new coronavirus in the United States, according to government data seen by Reuters.
The government of President Donald Trump implemented new border regulations on March 21 that eliminated decades-long practices under laws designed to protect children from human trafficking and offer them the opportunity to apply for asylum in an American immigration court.
Under the new rules, United States officials can quickly remove people without standard immigration procedures.
At a general level, the country’s border authorities have expelled almost 7,000 migrants to Mexico since the new procedures came into effect, according to data and an official from the Mexican government, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Of these, 377 were minors, the figures showed.
The total number of 7,000 was first published by ProPublica, but the number of deported children had not been previously reported.
About 120 of the minors, who arrived at the US-Mexico border without a parent or legal guardian, were quickly flown back to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, according to data from March 27 to April 2. It was unclear if the rest of the children were returned to Mexico or returned to their countries of origin during the previous week.
The Customs and Border Protection Service (CBP) declined to comment. Previously, the agency said that all people caught illegally crossing, including minors, could be subject to the new restrictions, which aim to reduce the time that immigrants arrested at the border are in US custody.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus, unaccompanied minors captured at the border were placed in shelters administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Children traveling with adults other than their parents or legal guardians were also classified as “unaccompanied” and placed under HHS care, even if the adults were family members. However, under the new rules, they are now called “minors alone” and can be sent back to Mexico, according to a CBP official.
Overall, the number of migrants found at the border decreased dramatically after the implementation of the new border rules, with just 300 people currently in CBP custody, compared to almost 1,400 on March 27, according to data seen by Reuters.
(Report by Ted Hesson in Washington and Mica Rosenberg in New York, Additional report by Kristina Cooke in Los Angeles, Edited in Spanish by Manuel Farías)