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Because Covid-19 Leaves 'No More Time for Half Measures,' Judge Orders Release of Children Held by ICE

Advocates are calling on the agency to also immediately release parents.

A young migrant girl sits on the floor as her father, recently released from federal detention with other Central American asylum seekers, gets a bus ticket at a bus depot on June 11, 2019, in McAllen, Texas. (Photo: Loren Elliott/AFP/Getty Images)

A federal judge ruled Friday evening that immigrant children held in ICE detention must be released by July 17 due to the danger of the coronavirus pandemic, an order that was met with urgings from rights groups for the concurrent release of parents as well by the agency.

"The ball is in ICE's court now which means it's actually on all of ours to get families released TOGETHER," tweeted immigrant lawyer group RAICES.

U.S. District Court for the Central District of California Judge Dolly Gee on Friday ruled in favor of the release, calling the public health situation in immigration detention a catastrophe. At least 2,500 people in ICE detention to date have tested positive for the coronavirus.

"The family residential centers are on fire and there is no more time for half measures," Gee wrote in her ruling. 

As the New York Times reported, Gee has been a frequent impediment to President Donald Trump's ongoing war on immigrants:

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Judge Gee oversees compliance with the 1997 Flores settlement agreement that sets national standards for the treatment and release of detained immigrant children.

The Trump administration has been trying to terminate the settlement for the last two years, but those efforts have been blocked by Judge Gee and are currently being appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Immigrant families attorney Amy Maldonado told the Associated Press that the danger of the pandemic and the need for child safety make the case for ICE to release parents as soon as possible.

"They need to make the sensible choice and release the parents to care for their children," said Maldonado.

The order does not specifically order ICE to release the parents of the children and allows the agency to continue to detain children if they do not have a parent or relative to take them in. 

"The thing is... Judge Gee can't technically order the release of parents BUT she did make clear that ICE the ability to do so," explained RAICES. "It's just at their discretion. Which isn't great news considering their track record and unwillingness to release people from detention before."

University of California, Davis Immigration Law Clinic co-director Holly Cooper said in an interview with NPR she hoped the ruling would push ICE to do what's right for the children.

"What we're hoping is that ICE will do the humane thing, and not separate any child from their parents because that's what the children want," said Cooper. "That's what our class members want. That's what the advocates want. That's what the parents want."

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