November 18, 2020

US government officials admitted in federal court Tuesday that they violated a judge’s order when 32 unaccompanied immigrant children were expelled back to Guatemala, adding that they will begin the process of getting the group back to apply for asylum.

The offer to return the group to the US is a dramatic turn in a monthslong saga over the Nov. 18 flight to Guatemala, which occurred shortly after US Judge Emmet Sullivan blocked the Trump administration from turning back unaccompanied children under the argument that it would protect against further spread of COVID-19. Roughly 10 minutes later, at 10:12 a.m. ET, ICE officials deported the children.

An ICE deportation official, Evan Katz, confirmed in the filing that the agency had sought Guatemalan approval to return most of the children to the US, many of whom reboarded the plane as part of the process. Katz told the court that an ICE assistant attaché in Guatemala received an email from an agency colleague that afternoon stating: “The single minors have disembarked however they want the kids to be returned to the US.”

Of the 32 children, 28 boarded the plane again at about 4:55 p.m. ET on Nov. 18 because the remaining four had tested positive for COVID-19 and were taken to be quarantined, one of the government filings states. But a few minutes later, the children were taken off the plane.

Source: Buzzfeed News, “US Officials Admitted They Violated A Court Order When They Expelled 32 Immigrant Children To Guatemala”, January 2021. <>

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): ICE

Event Type(s): Inappropriate Deportation

Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG