Government must release migrant children in coronavirus detention centers, judge orders

The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service must release children detained in the country’s three family detention centers by July 17 due to the danger posed by the coronavirus pandemic, a federal judge in Los Angeles ordered.

United States District Judge Dolly Gee said in a ruling Friday that children detained for more than 20 days in ICE family residential centers must be released before July 17 to “non-congregated settings” that include ” suitable sponsors “and even his own parents, who can also be released if conditions warrant.

The centers “are” on fire “and there is no more time for half measures,” Gee wrote.

He cited “unequally implemented written protocols,” employees with COVID-19 at a Texas facility, and 11 detained with the virus at a family residential center in Kansas.

The matter is now in the hands of ICE, which had 124 children at those facilities in Texas and Pennsylvania as of June 8, according to the ruling. The decision applies only to children, it does not compel ICE to release the parents.

Gee said ICE may use tracking devices on some parents if deemed necessary to free them with their children.

Last month, NBC News reported that given the option to release their children or stay together in family detention, mothers and fathers, each and every one of the 366 families in ICE detention, chose the latter.

Gee criticized family residential centers as possible hot spots for the virus.

“The court is not surprised that COVID-19 has arrived” at the facilities of ICE and the US Office of Refugee Resettlement, Gee wrote.

She ordered ICE to try to make sure the virus does not spread in migrant detention centers.

“ICE will urgently apply its existing COVID-19 protocols,” he said, including social distancing, which requires the use of masks and tests.

The ruling is part of ongoing litigation over a 1997 settlement known as the Flores settlement that sets standards for how the government can treat migrant children.

Lindsay Toczylowski, co-founder of the Los Angeles-based Immigrant Defender Law Center, said on Twitter: “Tonight’s decision in #Flores recognizes the grave danger that children in ICE prison are facing due to COVID and orders the prompt release. “

Following a decision in September that Gee ruled that the administration must accept Flores’s agreement, the White House said in a statement that Flores was a “legal vacuum” and suggested that Gee was part of a group of “activist judges.”

“For two and a half years, this Administration has worked to restore the faithful application of laws enacted by Congress, while activist judges have imposed their own vision in place of those laws duly enacted,” said the statement by the press secretary. from the White House. .

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