Honduran migrants wait to cross the international border bridge from Ciudad Tecun Uman in Guatemala to Ciudad Hidalgo in Mexico, on January 18, 2020.

Nearly 9,000 unaccompanied migrant children expelled from the United States under the coronavirus-related border ban, which has been in effect since March 20, authorities said on Friday.

More than 159,000 migrants had been kicked out since the emergency order — 8,800 of which were children traveling alone and 7,600 of whom were family members, according to a US Border Patrol official. 

The data was released as part of the administration’s appeal of a recent court ruling to stop housing migrant children in hotels.

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Around 8,800 unaccompanied migrant children have been expelled from the United States under the Trump administration’s coronavirus-related border ban, according to court documents filed by the Justice Department on Friday.

Speaking at a court declaration on Friday, US Border Patrol Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz said more than 159,000 migrants had been expelled since the emergency order took effect on March 20 — 8,800 were children traveling alone and 7,600 of which were traveling with family members.

“The numbers are stunning,” Lindsay Toczylowski, the executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center, told CBS News.

“Having talked to so many kids who come here seeking asylum and knowing the fear that they have and what they’re fleeing, to find out that our government has literally taken children who are seeking protection and sent them back to the very places they fled in such high numbers really took my breath away.”

Most children and families were “immediately” expelled to Mexico but more than 2,200 unaccompanied children and 600 family members were held until flights could be organized to send them back, Ortiz added, according to NBC News.

The figure has been revealed as part of the administration’s appeal of a recent court ruling to stop housing migrant children in hotels.

In August, documents reviewed by The New York Times revealed that at least 860 migrants — most believed be children — were being detained in hotels across the country rather than in licensed and monitored facilities.

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Civil rights advocates fear that the system is putting the children’s wellbeing in danger and have criticized the administration for using public health claims as a guise to impose harsh immigration restrictions.

US District Judge Dolly Gee ruled last week that detaining the children in hotels was not safe and that it violated a 20-year-old settlement governing the treatment of children in custody. She ordered the administration to stop the practice by September 15.

However, Justice Department attorneys have argued that the use of hotels for long-term detention was appropriate because it would contain COVID-19. 

“While in these hotels, the government provides minors with supervision by specialists, recreation, amenities, and protective measures against COVID-19,” the attorneys wrote in the court documents, according to NBC News.

Before the pandemic, the government would send unaccompanied migrant children to state-licensed shelters operated by the Department of Health and Human Services.

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