Judge Orders Release Of Migrant Children Held In Detention Centers

by Leah Groth
children at ice detention center
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Due to the pandemic, a U.S. district judge has ordered ICE to release children being held in three family detention centers

Over the last six months, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers have been places of concern as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. After all, the highly infectious and potentially deadly virus can spread like wildfire in a setting where social distancing cannot possibly exist, and where new people from all over are entering every day. On Friday, a judge ordered the release of all children held in the country’s three family detention centers — two in Texas and one in Pennsylvania — by July 17, citing the danger posed by the pandemic.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee, a federal judge in Los Angeles, issued the order, applying to children who have been in ICE centers for more than 20 days, in response to a long-running case citing that some of them have tested positive for the virus.

“The family residential centers are on fire, and there is no more time for half measures,” she wrote, slamming the family centers as hot spots. “The court is not surprised that COVID-19 has arrived. Gee also ordered ICE to “urgently enforce its existing COVID-19 protocols,” including social distancing, requiring mask use, and testing.

Per the New York Times, about 2,500 immigrants in ICE detention have tested positive for the virus. The agency already released at least 900 people with underlying conditions and maintained that it has reduced the population in each facility to mitigate the spread of the virus. Recently 11 children and parents have tested positive for the coronavirus at a single ICE facility located Karnes City, Texas. After workers at a separate family facility in Dilley, Texas tested positive for the virus, other migrants are awaiting test results.

According to the case, the ruling will apply to 124 children, who will be released into “non-congregate settings” that include “suitable sponsors” — possibly to their own parents. Gee suggested ICE could use tracking devices on some parents if deemed “necessary” for them to be released along with their children.

“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, the New York Times reports, “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.”

Lindsay Toczylowski, co-founder of the L.A.-based Immigrant Defenders Law Center, tweeted her support of the order, writing: “Tonight’s decision in #Flores recognizes the grave danger children in ICE prison are in due to COVID & orders prompt releases.”

However, Toczylowski did point out that it wasn’t enough: “But it only guarantees oppty for release of kids, NOT PARENTS. It’s time to get loud and demand ICE not separate these families. #FamiliesBelongTogether.”

Gee has been an advocate for detained immigrant children, overseeing compliance with the 1997 Flores settlement agreement, which the Trump administration has been attempting to abolish for two years. Luckily, the female judge continues blocking their efforts.