Federal judge orders all children with families detained by ICE to be released

A federal judge ruled Friday that minor children being held for longer than 20 days with their parents in detention facilities must be released. The ruling affects three family detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.


The reason given by Judge Dolly M. Gee of the United States District Court for the Central District of California is the spread of the coronavirus in these facilities. Judge Gee set a deadline of July 17 for the release of the children, who can be released with their families or to a family sponsor.

The family detention centers “are ‘on fire’ and there is no more time for half measures,” she wrote.

These three family detention centers are operated by ICE and are distinct from the ones operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The judge’s ruling claims that 124 children are being detained in the family detention centers whereas the HHS facilities hold about 1,000 children, all unaccompanied. The good news is that the number of those being detained has fallen, thanks to the Trump administration’s policies of removing most people trying to cross the border and to enforcement of the Migrant Protection Protocols, a.k.a. the Remain in Mexico policy.

Judge Gee’s order pertains to the court settlement governing the Flores agreement – the U.S. government’s treatment of immigrant children. She has long declared the treatment of children in detention centers to be “deplorable”, first during the Obama presidency (she’s an Obama appointee) and now again during Trump’s administration. According to her order, there arethree conditions in which ICE can refuse to release a child.


Gee’s order says 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.”

But most parents last month refused to designate a sponsor when ICE officials unexpectedly asked them who could take their children if the adults remained detained, according to lawyers for the families. The agency said then it was conducting a “routine parole review consistent with the law” and Gee’s previous orders.

Activists would like to empty the detention centers by using the excuse of the spread of the coronavirus advocate for the release of all families.

Advocates contend that ICE should release all families from detention especially as the coronavirus has spread rapidly through immigration detention. In court filings revealed Thursday, ICE said 11 children and parents have tested positive for COVID-19 at the family detention center in Karnes City, Texas…

Amy Maldonado, an attorney who works with detained families, said 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 said of the government.

ICE is not supportive of the judge’s order to release families. The reason is that while the coronavirus is spreading in its facilities, families are likely flight risks.


More than 2,500 people in ICE custody have tested positive for COVID-19. The agency says it has released at least 900 people considered to have heightened medical risk and reduced the populations at its three family detention centers. But in court filings last month, ICE said it considered most of the people in family detention to be flight risks because they had pending deportation orders or cases under review.

The judge addressed the problems with containing the coronavirus outbreaks in the detention center, ruling that more efforts must be made to release the children.

“Given the severity of the outbreak in the counties in which FRCs are located and the Independent Monitor and Dr. Wise’s observations of non-compliance or spotty compliance with masking and social distancing rules, renewed and more vigorous efforts must be undertaken to transfer (children) residing at the FRCs to non-congregate settings,” Gee wrote in her order.

Liberal legal experts are pleased with Judge Gee’s ruling, including the co-counsel in the original lawsuit that brought about the Flores consent decree, Peter Schey.

“We are grateful that the federal court has again stepped into this crisis and ordered the release of all minors to relatives in the U.S. in the next three weeks as long as the parent detained with the child wants their child released,” Schey wrote in a statement to CBS News. “Some detained parents facing deportation brought their children to this country to save them from rampant and unchecked violence in their home countries and would prefer to see them released to relatives here rather than being deported along with the parent to countries where children face harm, and sometimes death.”


It seems to me that the facilities should be required to isolate the people who are infected with the coronavirus and treat them. Releasing the children to others or releasing the entire family will only spread the virus outside the facility. It is impossible to expect detention centers to be disease-free because of the close quarters and the number of detainees being held. Other federal facilities are dealing with the pandemic as best as is possible. This just seems like an excuse to return to the status quo of allowing illegal immigrants to be released into the general population before their legal status is determined.

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David Strom 5:00 PM | May 23, 2024