Safe Processing and Transport of Arriving Unaccompanied Children in a Public Health Emergency

By USCRI January 5, 2021


At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order to limit entry at the U.S. southern border. The CDC invoked a comprehensive quarantine power based in an expansive reading of Title 42 of U.S. Code[1]—added in the 1940s—to override protections that Congress explicitly required, such as those for unaccompanied children via 2008’s Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). Implicitly, the rationale of the Title 42 order is that the U.S. could not both protect public health and at the same time safeguard the rights of asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children. The argument that the U.S. cannot both protect public health and safeguard UCs was and is a false choice. The U.S. can do both.

DHS is not and has never been a child-welfare or family-welfare agency. For this reason, Congress explicitly mandated that UCs be transferred from DHS to HHS custody in the Homeland Security Act of 2002. DHS has repeatedly shown that it lacks adequate child-welfare protocols, protections, and expertise, including the family separations that became widely known in the summer of 2018.

Nonetheless, DHS must adopt and implement key health and safety measures for receiving UCs. Here, USCRI contributes guidance towards the safe processing of UCs, and specific recommendations relevant to UC processing by DHS in a longer period of uncertain public health.

Read the full report…USCRI_Policy_Brief_SafeProcessing_1_4_2021

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