A federal judge in Los Angeles has ordered the release of all migrant children in detention centers amid the coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee gave the government a firm deadline of July 17 to clear the county’s three family detention centers.
On Friday, she issued a ruling that read: “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 can also be released if conditions warrant it.”
Judge Gee said the explosion of coronavirus cases leaves no time for half measures. To justify the order, she cited employees who have tested positive for the virus at one Texas facility. There are also 11 detainees with the virus at one family residential center in Kansas.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) is currently holding 124 children at their Texas and Pennsylvania facilities. The judge clarified that her ruling applies only to children.
However, while ICE is not compelled to release their parents, Gee said the agency could use tracking and monitoring devices on the adult detainees so they can be with their children.
The judge maintained that the detention centers are hotspots for infection. She ordered ICE to urgently enforce its existing COVID-19 protocols which include social distancing, wearing of face masks, and testing. This will curb the uncontrolled spread of the virus in migrant detention facilities.
The ruling is part of ongoing litigation over a 1997 settlement known as the Flores agreement that sets standards for how the government can treat migrant children.
While many see Judge Gee’s orders as humanitarian, some quarters say she is acting on behalf of a group of activist judges.