U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement must release children held in the country's three family detention centers by July 17 because of the danger posed by the coronavirus pandemic, a federal judge in Los Angeles ordered.
U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee said in a ruling Friday 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 can also be released if conditions warrant it.
The centers "are 'on fire' and there is no more time for half measures," Gee wrote.
She cited "unevenly implemented written protocols," employees with Covid-19 at one Texas facility, and 11 detainees with the virus at a family residential center in Kansas.
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The matter is now in the hands of ICE, which had 124 children at those facilities in Texas and Pennsylvania as of June 8, the ruling said. The ruling applies only to children, it does not compel ICE to release parents.
Gee said ICE could use tracking devices on some parents if deemed necessary in order to release them with their children.
Last month, NBC News reported that given the choice of having their children be released or staying together in family detention, mothers and fathers — each and every one of the 366 families in ICE detention — chose the latter.
Gee criticized the family residential centers as potential hot spots for the virus.
"The court is not surprised that COVID-19 has arrived" at ICE and U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities, Gee wrote.