HOUSTON – When officers led them out of a detention facility near the U.S.-Mexico border and onto a bus last month, the 12-year-old from Honduras and his 9-year-old sister believed they were going to a shelter so they could be reunited with their mother in the Midwest.
They had been told to sign a paper they thought would tell the shelter they didn’t have the coronavirus, the boy said. The form was in English, a language he and his sister don’t speak. The only thing he recognized was the letters “COVID.”
Instead, the bus drove five hours to an airport where the children were told to board a plane.
“They lied to us,” he said. “They didn’t tell us we were going back to Honduras.”
More than 2,000 unaccompanied children have been expelled since March under an emergency declaration enacted by the Trump administration, which has cited the coronavirus in refusing to provide them protections under federal anti-trafficking and asylum laws. Lawyers and advocates have sharply criticized the administration for using the global pandemic as a pretext to deport children to places of danger.
No U.S. agents looked at the video the boy had saved on his cellphone showing a hooded man holding a rifle, saying his name, and threatening to kill him and his sister, weeks after the uncle caring for them was shot dead in June. And even though they were expelled under an emergency declaration citing the virus, they were never tested for COVID-19, the boy said.
Three weeks after their uncle was killed, the children fled Honduras, crossing the U.S.-Mexico border alone. Under the normal process set out by U.S. law, they would have been referred to a government facility for youth and eventually placed with their mother. Instead, they were expelled on July 24 after three days in U.S. detention and now live in Honduras with another uncle who is looking to leave the country himself.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined multiple requests for comment on the boy’s story, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also declined, saying the children had been in Border Patrol custody until they boarded a deportation flight operated by ICE.