A federal judge ruled on Friday that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement must release children that are being held in three family detention centers by July 17. The judge ruled that by being kept at the centers put the children at high risk of contracting the coronavirus.
U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee said in her ruling that children held for more than 20 days at ICE family residential centers should be released by July 17 to “non-congregate settings” that include “suitable sponsors” and even to their own parents, who could also be released because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The centers “are ‘on fire’ and there is no more time for half measures,” Gee wrote.
She went on to cite “unevenly implemented written protocols,” employees with COVID-19 at a Texas facility, and 11 detainees with the virus at a family residential center located in Kansas.
It is now the responsibility of ICE to get a reported the children out of the facilities and into safe environments, whether that be foster care or back into the care of their parents.
Gee stated that ICE could use tracking devices on some parents if necessary, to release them with their children.
In her statement, Gee criticized the family residential centers as hot spots for COVID-19.
“The court is not surprised that COVID-19 has arrived at ICE and U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities,” Gee wrote.
“ICE shall urgently enforce its existing COVID-19 protocols,” she added including social distancing, requiring mask use and testing.
Lindsay Toczylowski, the co-founder of the L.A.-based Immigrant Defenders Law Center, said on Twitter, “Tonight’s decision in #Flores recognizes the grave danger children in ICE prison are in due to COVID & orders prompt releases. But it only guarantees apply for the release of kids, NOT PARENTS. It’s time to get loud and demand ICE not to separate these families. #FamiliesBelongTogether”
In a second tweet, Toczylowski wrote, “This decision sets up a binary choice for these parents. Can you imagine being told your child can leave his prison, but only if they go alone? Or you can stay together in an ICE prison where COVID is spreading rapidly. What would you do? Remember: ICE has power to #FreeThemAll.”