Judge orders release of migrant children from ICE detention centers

A federal judge has ruled that the Trump administration must release immigrant children being detained with their parents in U.S. immigration jails during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the order, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee swiped at the administration for detaining families during the pandemic, and said that all children held for more than 20 days at three Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania must be released.

Gee, citing recent outbreaks of the virus at two of the three facilities, said the centers “are ‘on fire’ and there is no more time for half measures,” adding that the facilities have until July 17 to release the minors with their parents or send them to family sponsors.

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Gee’s order does not directly apply to parents who are detained with their children. 

The number of minors being detained has dropped in recent months, though ICE said in May it was detaining 184 children at the three centers, which are separate from Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) facilities for unaccompanied children. 

Activists have been urging the government to release families detained together given the rapid spread of the highly contagious coronavirus through detention facilities.

ICE admitted in court filings revealed this week that 11 children and parents have tested positive for COVID-19 at the family detention center in Karnes City, Texas, alone. At least three parents and a child have also been placed in isolation in the center at Dilley, Texas.

Gee “clearly recognized that the government is not willing to protect the health and safety of the children, which is their obligation,” Amy Maldonado, an attorney who works with detained families, told The Associated Press. “They need to make the sensible choice and release the parents to care for their children.”

Brooke Seipel contributed.