US Judge Orders Release Of All Migrant Children Being Held In Immigration Centres
A federal judge in Los Angeles has ordered for the release of all migrant children being held in immigration centres, due to the risk posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision comes from US District Judge Dolly Gee, who ruled on Friday, June 26, that any children held for more than 20 days in one of the country’s three Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) family detention centres should be released by July 17.
Children are set to be released to ‘non-congregate settings’ with ‘suitable sponsors’. They can be released to their parents if conditions warrant for the release of the parents as well.
Gee denounced the Trump administration’s prolonged detention of families during the coronavirus pandemic and stressed there is ‘no more time for half measures’ as the detention centres are ‘on fire’ as a result of the virus, which can be transmitted from person to person.
In order to support her ruling, the judge cited ‘unevenly implemented written protocols’ and made reference to employees who had contracted COVID-19 at one Texas facility, as well as 11 detainees who had contracted it at a family residential centre in Kansas, NBC News reports.
In her ruling, Gee wrote the court was ‘not surprised that COVID-19 has arrived’ at ICE and US Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities.
Gee ordered ICE to take measures to try and stem the spread of the virus in migrant detention centres, writing that ICE ‘shall urgently enforce its existing COVID-19 protocols’ such as social distancing, enforcing the use of face masks and testing.
The ruling comes as part of an ongoing litigation over a 1997 settlement known as the Flores agreement, which sets standards for how the government can treat migrant children.
Lindsay Toczylowski, co-founder of the LA-based Immigrant Defenders Law Center, expressed her approval of the ruling, though stressed families should not be separated.
She wrote on Twitter:
Tonight’s decision in #Flores recognizes the grave danger children in ICE prison are in due to COVID & orders prompt releases. But it only guarantees oppty for release of kids, NOT PARENTS. It’s time to get loud and demand ICE not separate these families.
The matter now lies with ICE, which, as of June 8, was holding 124 children at family detention centres in Texas and Pennsylvania.
ICE are not compelled to release parents under the ruling, though if the organisation decides to do so Gee said it could use tracking devices on some parents, if it is deemed necessary.
Last month, it was reported every single one of the 366 families in ICE detention would rather stay together in detention than have children released if given the choice.
ICE can decline to release a child if there is not a suitable sponsor, the child’s parent waives rights under the Flores agreement, or if there is a prior unexplained failure to appear at a scheduled hearing.
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