Judge orders ICE to free migrant children from family detention during coronavirus pandemic, report says

The South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley is one of two family immigrant detention centers in Texas. (Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune)

As the coronavirus spreads in detention centers, a federal judge ordered the release of migrant children held for more than 20 days at three family detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania, the Associated Press reported Friday.

District Judge Dolly Gee wrote in an order that detention centers “are ‘on fire’ and there is no more time for half measures.” Her order mandated that by July 17, the affected children and their parents be released from the centers or sent to live with family sponsors.

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In May, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it was detaining 184 migrant children along with their parents at these three centers, which include the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley and the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City.

At the Karnes City facility, ICE reported 11 children and parents have tested positive for COVID-19, and in Dilley, at least three individuals, including a two-year-old, have been placed in isolation after two private contractors and an ICE official tested positive.

“[ICE needs] to make the sensible choice and release the parents to care for their children,” Amy Maldonado, an attorney who works with detained families, told the Associated Press.

Gee’s order does not directly apply to parents, but most parents at the detention centers last month refused to designate a different family sponsor for their children upon the children’s release, leading ICE to establish “routine parole reviews” for children and their parents.

More than 2,500 detainees have tested positive for COVID-19 while in ICE custody, the AP reported. ICE has said it has released more than 900 detainees with increased medical risks and de-densified the detainee populations at the three family detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania. But according to the agency in May, most people in family detention are considered flight risks because of pending deportation orders or cases under review.

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