Citing the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, a federal judge in Los Angeles on Friday ordered the imminent release of migrant children held in the country’s three family detention centers.
The order to release the children by July 17 came after plaintiffs in a long-running case reported that some of them had tested positive for the virus. It applies to children who have been held for more than 20 days in the detention centers run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, two in Texas and one in Pennsylvania.
There were 124 children living in those facilities on June 8, according to the ruling.
In her order, Judge Dolly Gee of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California criticized the Trump administration for spotty compliance with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To prevent the virus from spreading in congregate detention facilities, the agency had recommended social distancing, the wearing of masks and early medical intervention for those with virus symptoms.
“The family residential centers are on fire and there is no more time for half measures,” she wrote.
Given the pandemic, Gee wrote, ICE must work to release the children with “all deliberate speed,” either along with their parents or to suitable guardians with the consent of their parents.
The order was the first time a court had set a firm deadline for the release of minors in family detention if their parents designated a relative in the United States to take custody. Recent orders had required their “prompt” release.
“Some detained parents facing deportation brought their children to this country to save them from rampant violence in their home countries,” said Peter Schey, counsel for the class of detained children, “and would prefer to see their child released to relatives here rather than being deported with the parent to countries where children are routinely kidnapped, beaten and killed.”
Gee oversees compliance with the 1997 Flores settlement agreement that sets national standards for the treatment and release of detained immigrant children.
The Trump administration has been trying to terminate the settlement for the last two years, but those efforts have been blocked by Gee and are being appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Eleven children and parents have tested positive for the coronavirus at a family detention center in Karnes City, Texas. Some migrants at a family facility in Dilley, Texas, are awaiting test results after workers there tested positive for the virus.
Overall, about 2,500 immigrants in ICE detention have tested positive for the virus. The agency has said that it has released at least 900 people with underlying conditions and that it has shrunk the population in each facility to mitigate the spread of the virus.