WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Humanitarian groups say the Trump administration is once again trying to separate immigrant children from their families, using the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason.
A federal judge ruled last month that migrant children detained in U.S. custody should be released without unnecessary delay.
“Any humane response would be to release them with their parents,” said Denise Bell with Amnesty International.
Bell said instead the Trump administration is again trying to separate migrant families.
“The administration is once again weaponizing its response to the pandemic to achieve policies it couldn’t achieve otherwise,” Bell said.
Bell said in an attempt to discourage asylum seekers “they gave them an option: They could be separated from their children and be detained indefinitely by themselves or be detained with their children.”
Alan Shapiro is a pediatrician and co-founder of Terra Firma, a group that works with migrant children. Shapiro said neither option is good.
An inspector general report found the Trump administration didn’t properly track the children it separated from their families. Shapiro said staying in detention puts everyone at a greater risk of contracting the virus and other psychological harm.
“I saw children with self-injurious behavior,” said Shapiro. “One child who kept chewing on his arm; another child that kept trying to choke himself.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement the agency has not changed procedures and the choice of releasing children to a sponsor is not new.