A Texas federal judge ordered the release of all children held with their parents in U.S. immigration jails and condemned the Trump administration for prolonging the detention of families amid the coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee’s order will apply to children who have been held for more than twenty days at three family detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania that are operated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
According to the New York Post, some of the children have been detained since last year. Judge Gee referenced the spread of the coronavirus in two of the facilities as one of the reasons behind her order which gives the July 17 deadline to release children to their parents or a family sponsor and claims the centers “are ‘on fire.’
“There is no more time for half measures,” she wrote.
Last month, ICE detained 184 children across the three centers, separate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services facilities that held around 1,000 unaccompanied children in early June. Both systems have seen a drastic decrease in numbers since earlier in the Trump administration due to the U.S. expelling the majority of people trying who attempted to cross the border and required that they wait for their immigration cases in Mexico.
The Flores agreement is a long-running court settlement that governs the U.S. government’s treatment of immigrant children and is overseen by Judge Gee. However, her recent order does not pertain to parents detained with their children.
According to lawyers representing detained families, most parents declined to assign a designated sponsor when ICE unexpectedly asked them who could take care of their children if they remained detained, claiming the agency was conducting a “routine parole review consistent with the law” and Gee’s previous order.
Advocates have been vocal on their contentions that ICE should release all families from detention centers due to the rapid spread of the virus within the facilities. Court documents revealed 11 children and parents at the Karnes City, Texas facility tested positive for the virus. At the nearby Dilley location, three parents and children, including a 2-year-old, were isolated after two private contractors and an ICE official tested positive.
Over 2,500 people in ICE custody have contracted the virus. The agency reported the release of 900 individuals who were considered high risk, which allowed them to claim the reduction of its population across the three detention centers. However, court documents filed in May, show ICE labeled the majority of detained families as “flight risks” because they have pending deportation orders or cases that are still under review.
The poor treatment of detained families is recognized by representing attorney Amy Maldonado, who says Judge Gee “clearly recognized that the government is not willing to protect the health and safety of the children, which is their obligation.”
“They need to make the sensible choice and release the parents to care for their children,” she stated, and rightfully so, parents likely distrust the system and do not want to separate from their children. The order seems to be a gift and a curse.