More Than 41K Migrants Sent Back Under CDC Border Block

By Alyssa Aquino
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Law360 (June 12, 2020, 9:50 PM EDT) -- U.S. Customs and Border Protection has pushed back more than 41,000 people at the southern border since enacting a rule allowing agents to swiftly turn away migrants, including children and asylum seekers, to combat the novel coronavirus, according to a Friday announcement.

According to CBP's statistics, the agency turned back 19,700 migrants in May under a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order allowing border officers to suspend the entry of anyone without travel documents, regardless of whether they were seeking asylum or other protections.

The agency was able "to process and return, in under two hours, 96 percent of those subject to the [CDC] order," it said.

The statistics further revealed that 14,800 migrants were turned away under the CDC order in April, as well as another 6,900 in March.

The Trump administration issued the order, which took effect on March 21, through the rarely used public health statute known as Title 42, claiming it would help curb the spread of COVID-19 at border facilities. The restriction initially exempted unaccompanied children, but the agency walked back that carve-out, saying that children who entered the U.S. alone could be sent back.

CBP didn't immediately provide details on how many children were turned away at the border.

The U.S. closed its land borders with Mexico and Canada to nonessential travel in a separate attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Refugees International President Eric Schwartz decried the public health justification as pretextual in a call to Law360, noting that the border restrictions fall under the Trump administration's attempts "to hermetically seal the borders of the United States in ways that no administration has contemplated, for decades."

He referred to a report from his organization co-authored by an epidemiologist, which says there is no scientific evidence justifying the border restrictions as an effective virus response.

The growing number of migrants turned away at the southern border "is part of an illegal set of nasty and nativist policies that are fundamentally and tragically altering a U.S. tradition of protection for those who are fleeing for their lives," Schwartz said.

Lee Gelernt, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, further tore into the CBP and its expulsion efforts.

"These enormous numbers show that this new CDC order is a transparent attempt to close the border to children and asylum seekers, precisely what the Trump administration has been attempting to do for almost four years," he said in a statement.

The ACLU has launched two legal challenges to the rule, calling the invocation of Title 42 a "transparent end-run around" Congress' protections for migrant children and foreigners fleeing persecution in their home countries.

The restrictions additionally increase the chances of migrant children contracting COVID-19, the ACLU claimed, noting that children would be kept in government custody longer while CBP arranged their deportation.

--Additional reporting by Suzanne Monyak. Editing by Adam LoBelia.

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