A federal judge has ordered the Trump administration to release migrant children from three detention centers, citing the coronavirus’s severity.
U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee says the children must be released by July 17 after lawyers representing migrant families reported several children had tested positive for the virus.
Order affects three ICE facilities
Gee’s ruling pertains to any migrant children who have been held for more than 20 days in facilities run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The agency has two detention centers in Texas and one in Pennsylvania.
The judge also criticized the Trump administration for what she calls “spotty compliance” of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations for social distancing, wearing masks and supplying early medical treatment for children with virus symptoms.
Judge says ICE must act quickly
As of June 8, 124 migrant children lived in the three facilities impacted by the judge’s ruling. Gee ordered ICE to move with “all deliberate speed” to release the children to their parents, or suitable guardians approved by the parents.
The judge’s ruling is the first time that a specific deadline has been set for the government to release minors held in detention when parents have already designated relatives or others with whom they could live. Other orders only required a “prompt” release.
Order complies with standards over care of immigrant children
The 1997 Flores settlement set U.S. standards for treating and releasing immigrant children held in detention. Judge Gee oversees the compliance of that agreement. The Trump administration has tried to eliminate the standard but has been blocked by Gee, and her rulings are under appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth District.
So far, ICE reports nearly 2,500 detained immigrants – children and adults – have tested positive for coronavirus. The agency says about 900 detainees with underlying medical conditions have been released in an attempt to lessen the spread of the virus.