U.S. judge blocks expulsions of unaccompanied children under Trump’s pandemic-related border rules

By Ted Hesson and Mica Rosenberg

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. district court judge on Wednesday blocked expulsions of unaccompanied children caught crossing into the United States, a setback for the outgoing Trump administration, which said the policy was aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in the District of Columbia ruled that the minors were likely to suffer irreparable harm because they could be subject to sexual abuse and other violence, as well as face the possibility of torture and death if summarily returned to their home countries.

President Donald Trump has made immigration curbs a central part of his four-year term in office and enacted a series of sweeping immigration restrictions during the pandemic.

President-elect Joe Biden, has vowed to reverse many of the Republican president’s hardline immigration policies.

Biden has not yet commented on how he would handle the emergency border rules that allow for rapid deportations. A Biden campaign official told Reuters that he would defer to health experts on such restrictions.

A U.S. Border Patrol official said in a September court filing that 8,800 unaccompanied minors were expelled under the border rules between their enactment on March 20 and Sept. 9.

Overall, the United States has expelled roughly 197,000 migrants caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border from March through the end of September, though those figures include migrants who may have crossed multiple times.

Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represented plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the policy was a “pretext” for Trump to close the border to children and asylum seekers from Central America.

The U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Nick Macfie)

U.S. holding 200 children at border, down from 2,500 in May

A teacher uses the Pledge of Allegiance in a reading class the U.S. government's newest holding center for migrant children in Carrizo Springs, Texas, U.S. July 9, 2019. Picture taken July 9, 2019. Eric Gay/Pool via REUTERS

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – U.S. immigration authorities held about 200 unaccompanied children at locations along the southwest border as of Wednesday, down from more than 2,500 in May as funding increases enabled a U.S. health agency to take custody of them.The reduction in detainees as reported by a senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection official follows a pair of recent internal government inspections that revealed overcrowding and filthy conditions for immigrants that inflamed the debate about President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policy.

Staff oversee breakfast at the U.S. government's government's newest holding center for migrant children in Carrizo Springs, Texas, U.S. July 9, 2019. Picture taken July 9, 2019. Eric Gay/Pool via REUTERS

Staff oversee breakfast at the U.S. government’s government’s newest holding center for migrant children in Carrizo Springs, Texas, U.S. July 9, 2019. Picture taken July 9, 2019. Eric Gay/Pool via REUTERS

Almost all detained unaccompanied children picked up by border officers are being turned over to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials within 72 hours of apprehension, the official told reporters on a conference call, speaking on the condition he not be named.

Criticism mounted after government inspectors and immigration lawyers found evidence children were being held long past legal limits at border facilities not equipped to house them.

Increasing numbers of mostly Central American families and children traveling alone – many seeking asylum in the United States – have overwhelmed authorities at a time when the Trump administration is pushing to limit legal and illegal immigration.

From late May to early June, the United States held about 2,500 to 2,700 children who were detained after crossing the border by themselves or who were separated from adults who were not their parents, the official said.

“To see these numbers currently at about 200 is very positive. That’s a huge difference since HHS has received their funding,” the official said. “Our goal is to get these individuals out of our custody as quickly as possible to HHS so they can have all the proper care and the long-term needs met for them.”

The U.S. Congress in June approved a $4.5 billion emergency supplemental funding bill aimed at improving conditions at the border, including $2.88 billion for HHS to provide shelter and care for unaccompanied children.

A legal settlement and anti-trafficking laws mandate that unaccompanied children traveling without a parent or legal guardian must be transferred to specialized facilities run by HHS. From there they are often released to sponsors in the United States as they pursue their immigration cases in court.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Lost children are legacy of battle for Iraq’s Mosul

Nine-year-old Iraqi girl Meriam looks out as she stands inside a house, east of Mosul, Iraq July 28, 2017.

By Angus MacSwan

MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) – Thousands of children have been separated from their parents in the nine-month battle for Mosul and the preceding years of Islamic State rule in northern Iraq – some found wandering alone and afraid among the rubble, others joining the refugee exodus from the pulverized city.

In some cases their parents have been killed. Families have been split up as they fled street fighting, air strikes or Islamic State repression. Many are traumatized from the horrors they have endured.

Protecting the youngsters and reuniting them with their families is an urgent task for humanitarian organizations.

“These children are extremely vulnerable,” said Mariyampillai Mariyaselvam, a child protection specialist with UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund). “Most have gone through a very painful history.”

Nine-year-old Meriam had left her family one day last October to visit her grandmother in west Mosul, then under Islamic State rule. The government offensive to recapture the city began, so she stayed there.

Her father Hassan told Reuters he had been a policeman but quit when the radical Islamists seized Mosul in 2014, fearing he would be targeted. He, his second wife, along with Meriam and her three half-siblings moved from dwelling to dwelling.

“We were living in many different places, moving around. Meriam stayed with her grandmother but when the bridges were shut down, I could not cross the river to see her,” he said, speaking in the abandoned, half-built house in east Mosul where the family is now squatting.

They eventually fled to the Hassan Sham displaced persons camp but Meriam was trapped in the west.

After government forces retook the neighborhood in June, she and her grandmother made it to the Khazer camp. Her father asked UNICEF for help and they managed to track down his daughter. They were reunited in Hassan Sham later that month.

“I was hearing bombing and killing every day. I did not believe they would find her,” he said.

Nine-year-old Iraqi girl Meriam smiles as she looks at her father Hassan in a house, east of Mosul, Iraq July 28, 2017. Picture taken July 28, 2017.

Nine-year-old Iraqi girl Meriam smiles as she looks at her father Hassan in a house, east of Mosul, Iraq July 28, 2017. Picture taken July 28, 2017. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Life is still hard for the family. They left the camp to return to the city with their few possessions, but the house owner wants to evict them. Hassan makes ends meet by finding day jobs. But at least they are together, he said, cuddling his daughter as he spoke.

Meriam, a bright-eyed girl with a shy smile, said she would like to go to school.

“I have never been to school. I would like to have books, a backpack, and to learn letters. That is my dream,” she said.

 

MOSUL SURGE

UNICEF says children in shock had been found in debris or hidden in tunnels in Mosul. Some had lost their families while fleeing to safety but sometimes parents had been forced to abandon children or give them away. Many children were forced to fight or carry out violent acts, it said in a statement. They were also vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

UNICEF’s Mariyaselvam, speaking to Reuters in Erbil, said the number of children coming out of Mosul had increased in the past few months as the battle reached its climax.

He explained the distinction between separated children, who are split from their legal guardians but are with friends or relatives, and unaccompanied children, who are alone and without care or guardians.

It was difficult to give an accurate number but child protection agencies have recorded more than 3,000 separated and over 800 unaccompanied children, he said. The latter are the priority.

The task of rescuing and identifying them begins in the field, with relief agency teams placed in strategic locations where people are fleeing. Registration points are set up. Mobile child protection teams also visit households. Then UNICEF and its local partners begin tracing the legal guardians or relatives.

“Our primary focus is care and protection for them. We try to make sure that they are provided immediate care,” he said.

In camps, they are usually placed with people on a temporary basis. If parents or other relatives cannot be identified, a legal process begins to put them in care homes with government permission. If all efforts fail, there is a foster program.

From the start, the children need specialized services such as psychological counseling. Some need mental health care. But the Iraqi government lacks sufficient resources or infrastructure to handle the challenge, Mariyaselvam said.

Mosul, which served as the capital of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria for three years, provided a particular set of problems. UNICEF and the government followed cases to ensure children were safe from abuse and exploitation once they were back in the community.

“The situation we are seeing is that some children are not being accepted by the community because of their affiliation,” he said, referring to the children of Islamic State fighters and supporters.

Some youngsters were roaming the city streets and some were being used as child labor, he said. Families who had lost their homes or fled could sometimes simply not cope.

“It is going to require a lot of time and a lot of resources and specialized services for them to rebuild their lives, including sending them back to school,” Mariyaselvam said.

And with the war still going on as Islamic State retreats and a government offensive to recapture the IS-held town of Tal Afar expected soon, a new wave of lost children is anticipated.

 

(Reporting by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Dale Hudson)

 

First unaccompanied children from Calais ‘Jungle’ reach Britain

UK Border Force staff escort the first group of unaccompanied minors from the Jungle migrant camp in Calais to be brought to Britain as they arrive at an immigration centre in Croydon, south London,

LONDON (Reuters) – A first busload of children arrived in Britain on Monday from the “Jungle” camp near the French port of Calais as the British government started to act on its commitment to take in unaccompanied migrant children before the camp is destroyed.

The fate of children staying in the Jungle, a squalid camp where up to 10,000 people fleeing war or poverty in the Middle East and Africa have converged seeking ways to cross to Britain, has been a political problem for the British government.

Religious leaders, refugee rights campaign groups and opposition parties have accused the government of dragging its heels on helping to move unaccompanied children out of the camp, which France has said it will soon demolish.

The French and British interior ministers, Bernard Cazeneuve and Amber Rudd, agreed in talks on Oct. 10 to speed up the process of moving children eligible to go to Britain out of the Jungle.

Fourteen children, the first whose cases have been processed, arrived by bus in Croydon, south London, to be reunited with relatives already living in Britain. Faith leaders and aid workers were on hand to welcome and assist them.

“The camp at Calais is a desperate, dangerous, horrible place, nowhere any adult should be, let alone any child,” said Bishop of Croydon Jonathan Clark.

“So this is a really good day to celebrate as some of those children begin to make their journeys to be reunited with their families,” he told reporters outside a Croydon church.

It is not known exactly how many children will be brought to Britain. The British interior ministry has said 80 children had been accepted for transfer from France so far this year under EU family reunification rules known as the Dublin regulation.

The Red Cross estimates that 1,000 unaccompanied children are living in the Jungle, of whom 178 have been identified as having family ties to Britain. It has said some of these children have been held back by bureaucracy.

Separately from the Dublin process, Britain has sent out a team to work with the French authorities to identify children who can be brought to Britain under the terms of a change to British immigration law known as the Dubs amendment.

It states that Britain will take in “vulnerable unaccompanied child refugees” who arrived in the EU before March 20, even if they do not have relatives in Britain.

March 20 was date of an EU-Turkey deal aimed at limiting the flow of migrants into the bloc, which reached crisis levels in 2015. The Dubs amendment is named after the politician who proposed it, Alf Dubs, who came to Britain as a Jewish child refugee fleeing Nazi persecution.

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison)

Britain to take in unaccompanied migrant children from camps

A young migrant pulls a trolley in a muddy field at a camp of makeshift shelters for migrants and asylum-seekers from Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran and Syria, called the Grande Synthe jungle, near Calais, France,

LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) – Britain will honor a commitment to take in migrant children from the “Jungle” camp in the French port city of Calais, interior minister Amber Rudd said on Monday, urging France to help her speed the process.

Rudd said progress had been made at a meeting with French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to help resettle unaccompanied children in the camp to Britain or to a safe children’s center while any necessary paperwork is processed.

Britain has been accused of dragging its heels on helping move the around 1,000 unaccompanied children in the Jungle, an overcrowded camp which is home to nearly 10,000 people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

Paris has said the camp will be demolished soon.

“The UK government has made clear its commitment to resettle vulnerable children under the Immigration Act and ensure that those with links to the UK are brought here using the Dublin regulation,” Rudd told parliament.

Under EU rules known as the Dublin regulation, asylum seekers must make an initial claim in the first country they reach, but can have their application examined in another if, for example, they have relatives living there.

“We have made good progress today but there is much more work to do,” Rudd said, referring to the meeting with Cazeneuve where the two sides agreed to speed up the process of moving the children before the camp is demolished.

Rudd said more than 80 unaccompanied children have been accepted for transfer under the Dublin regulation since the beginning of this year and urged France to come up with a list of those who are also eligible to move under EU rules.

Earlier, Cazeneuve said he would press the case for Britain to honor its commitment to take in the children after the Red Cross charity said many had been held back by bureaucracy.

“Of the estimated 1,000 unaccompanied children who are currently living in the Calais Jungle, 178 have been identified as having family ties to the UK. This gives them the right to claim asylum in the same country,” the Red Cross said.

Calais is one of several places in western Europe faced with huge build-ups of migrants.

More than 11,000 were rescued in just 48 hours last week off the coast of Libya as they sought to cross the sea to Europe.

(Reporting by Brian Love and Michel Rose in Paris, Elizabeth Piper in London,; Editing by Stephen Addison)