President Joe Biden will not use sweeping powers wielded by his predecessor to expel unaccompanied immigrant children at the southern border despite a federal appeals court clearing the way for him to do so last week, a White House spokesperson said Tuesday.
Between March 2020 and fall, the Department of Homeland Security expelled unaccompanied immigrant children from the US border more than 13,000 times at former president Donald Trump’s direction, according to internal documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.
Previously, unaccompanied children were sent to government-run shelters as they attempted to pursue their asylum cases. But the Trump administration argued that the policy was necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
On Tuesday, a White House spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the new administration’s policy “is not to expel unaccompanied children who arrive at our borders.”
“The president’s approach is to deal with immigration comprehensively, fairly and humanely,” the spokesperson added, noting that the administration has already been refusing to quickly turn back the unaccompanied children. Biden signed an order Tuesday directing officials to review whether termination of the entire policy, which has also led to thousands of adults being expelled, is necessary.
The White House statement comes after a federal court panel ruled to stay a November order that had blocked the Trump administration from using a CDC coronavirus public health provision to expel the children.
Expulsions are legally different from deportations, which would mean an immigrant had actually undergone the immigration process and was found to not be legally allowed to stay in the US. Critics said the Trump administration was using the public health orders as an excuse to violate federal laws that govern the processing of unaccompanied minors at the border.
Before the pandemic, unaccompanied children picked up by Border Patrol agents would be sent to the Office of Refugee Resettlement to be housed in shelters as they officially started applying for asylum and waited to be reunited with family members in the US.
The ORR referral process was created by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which was signed by then-president George W. Bush in 2008. Under the law, Border Patrol officials are generally required to refer the children within 72 hours to the US refugee agency.
Biden administration officials said that process would continue as it has been since November when US Judge Emmet Sullivan blocked the quick turnbacks of children at the border.
“The Border Patrol will continue to transfer unaccompanied children to the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement so they may be properly cared for in appropriate shelters, consistent with their best interest,” the White House spokesperson said.