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Roughly 8,800 unaccompanied migrant children expelled from U.S. since March

FILE - In this May 4, 2020, file photo, Guatemalans deported from the U.S., wave from a bus after arriving at La Aurora airport in Guatemala City. U.S. border agencies quickly expelled about 600 child migrants in April after federal agencies began prohibiting asylum claims at the southern border, citing the coronavirus pandemic.
FILE - In this May 4, 2020, file photo, Guatemalans deported from the U.S., wave from a bus after arriving at La Aurora airport in Guatemala City. U.S. border agencies quickly expelled about 600 child migrants in April after federal agencies began prohibiting asylum claims at the southern border, citing the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo, File)

President Donald Trump’s administration has expelled about 8,800 unaccompanied migrant children intercepted at the U.S.-Mexico border since March 20 under rules seeking to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus in the United States, according to court documents filed Friday by the Justice Department.

The administration had declined to disclose the numbers since June, when it said about 2,000 children had been expelled. Immigration advocates had argued that many more were likely subject to the rules, but the scope of the expulsions was not clear until Friday.

Read more: ‘The cruelty is staggering:’ U.S. deports migrants using coronavirus public health powers

The administration implemented new border rules on March 21 that scrapped decades-old practices under laws meant to protect children from human trafficking and offer them a chance to seek asylum in a U.S. immigration court. The administration said the emergency rules were designed to avert coronavirus outbreaks inside migrant holding facilities and among the broader U.S. population.

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Since then, U.S. officials have been quickly removing migrants, including unaccompanied minors, without standard immigration proceedings.

Click to play video 'Inside a holding centre for migrant children' Inside a holding centre for migrant children
Inside a holding centre for migrant children

Trump, seeking re-election on Nov. 3, has taken a hard line toward legal and illegal immigration as president.

Immigration advocates have argued that the new regulations put migrants, especially children, at grave risk. The federal government has been holding them for days or sometimes weeks in hotels with unlicensed contractors to look after them. Attorneys have said the children’s personal information is not recorded in the usual computer systems, making them almost impossible to track.

Read more: U.S. argues for migrant family detainment, despite judge’s order to release children

In June, U.S. Customs and Border Protection chief Mark Morgan said that about 2,000 unaccompanied children had been expelled under the order.

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The American Civil Liberties Union sued the administration over the order in June, and the agency has declined to update the numbers since then, citing pending litigation.

Click to play video 'U.S. immigration lawyer says migrant children in ‘degrading and inhumane conditions’ at Texas facility' U.S. immigration lawyer says migrant children in ‘degrading and inhumane conditions’ at Texas facility
U.S. immigration lawyer says migrant children in ‘degrading and inhumane conditions’ at Texas facility

The government produced the figures in a Justice Department filing to the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals objecting to a Sept. 4 order that it stop holding children in hotels before expelling them.

In addition to expelling about 8,800 children, the government said it had expelled 159,000 migrants overall, and 7,600 family units.

(Reporting by Mimi Dwyer; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Will Dunham)