A US 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.
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.
Outgoing 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.
A US Border Patrol official said in a September court filing that 8 800 unaccompanied minors were expelled under the border rules between their enactment on 20 March 20 and 9 September.
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.
The US Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent by Reuters.