United Nations children’s advocacy agency UNICEF is condemning the recent deportation of hundreds of children by the United States amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, warning these kids are now facing “acts of violence and discrimination” in Mexico and Central America over fears they’re sick with COVID-19. Under a Stephen Miller-led CDC order, the Trump administration has deported at least 900 children since March with no end in sight, because officials have just extended the policy indefinitely.
“For children on the move across the region, COVID-19 is making a bad situation even worse,” UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore warned. “Discrimination and attacks are now added to existing threats like gang violence that drove these children to leave in the first place. This means many returned children are now doubly at risk and in even greater peril than when they left their communities. It is never in a child’s best interest to be sent back to an unsafe situation.”
UNICEF said that “In some communities, there are worries that children and families returned from the U.S. and Mexico could be carrying the virus. This has led to further stigmatization of migrants. UNICEF has received reports of communities in Guatemala and Honduras barring physical entry to outside groups or strangers, including returnees, to prevent local transmission of the disease.”
“In other instances, migrants have been threatened with violence upon returning to their communities, while migrant reception and transit centers have been threatened or attacked,” the agency continued, saying it’s also “aware of some cases where returns have been expedited without first providing migrants with access to asylum procedures and screening for COVID-19.”
Leading health experts have already criticized CDC Director Robert R. Redfield for the order unilaterally obliterating legal protections for migrant children, writing “The nation’s public health laws should not be used as a pretext for overriding humanitarian laws and treaties that provide life-saving protections to refugees seeking asylum and unaccompanied children.”
“A recent study found that of several hundred asylum seekers currently at the Mexico-U.S. border, 92 percent have family or friends they could live with in the United States,” experts continued. Instead, Miller is leading a charge to deport hundreds—and by the near future, possibly thousands—of kids to increased danger. Federal legislators including Hispanic Caucus chair Joaquin Castro of Texas have called on the administration to halt deportations amid this pandemic, a demand echoed by UNICEF.
“UNICEF is calling on all governments to end pushbacks and deportations of unaccompanied or separated children, as well as children with their families without prior adequate protection and health screenings,” the agency said.
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