A U.S. appeals court on Sunday ruled that the Trump administration cannot resume detention of unaccompanied immigrant children in hotels.

A three-judge 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel upheld a lower-court ruling that barred the practice in most cases, rejecting a government request for a stay, The Associated Press reported.

U.S. officials have used hotels to detain nearly 600 children before expelling them since March. Citing the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration has expelled nearly 9,000 migrant children overall without following usual asylum procedures.

Immigrant rights advocates, meanwhile, have accused the administration of simply using the pandemic as a pretext to bypass the asylum process. Documents obtained by The Intercept in September indicated that border officials did not test any detainees for the coronavirus between March and early May.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson told CBS News Thursday that the agency has not detained minors in hotels since Sept. 11. However, the agency said unaccompanied minors and families with children are still subject to expulsion under pandemic rules.

“The true problem here is not the hotels, it’s the expulsions,” immigration attorney Taylor Levy told CBS News. “Just because [the Department of Homeland Security] has stopped using hotels does not mean that children are not being expeditiously expelled without any due process, without any chance to seek asylum.” 

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee, an Obama appointee, ordered an end to the practice in early September, saying it was in violation of “fundamental humanitarian protections.”

“This court is sensitive to the exigencies created by COVID-19 and recognizes that the pandemic may require temporary, emergency modifications to the immigration system to enhance public safety. But that is no excuse for [the Department of Homeland Security] to skirt the fundamental humanitarian protections that the Flores Amendment guarantees for minors in their custody, especially when there is no persuasive evidence that hoteling is safer than licensed facilities,” she wrote.

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