(TMU) – In a ruling on Friday, US District Judge Dolly Gee ordered the release of children who are currently being held in the country’s immigration detention centers, over concerns that keeping people in such conditions could exacerbate the spread of the ‘COVID-19’ coronavirus.
In her ruling, Gee said that children who have been held for more than 20 days at ICE family residential centers should be released by July 17 to “non-congregate settings” that include “suitable sponsors” and possibly even to their own parents in some cases.
The order also left the door open for the release of the parents as well, so they can be reunited with their children. However, the order does not compel ICE to release the parents, as it does with the children, it leaves that part up to the agency’s discretion, which may not be favorable.
Still, the agency will be required to release the children. Gee suggested that if ICE felt uncomfortable about releasing the parents outright, they could release them with ankle bracelets or other tracking devices.
Gee wrote that the centers “are ‘on fire’ and there is no more time for half measures.”
The judge pointed to employees and detainees who tested positive for the virus in both Texas and Kansas, and condemned the “unevenly implemented written protocols,” at these locations.
In addition to the release of the child detainees, the judge ordered ICE facilities to “urgently enforce its existing COVID-19 protocols,” which includes testing, mask use, and social distancing.
Judge Gee has been active in pushing for the release of children held at these facilities since long before the pandemic began. In a decision late last year, the judge ruled that ICE must abide by the Flores agreement, a 1997 settlement that sets standards for how the government can treat migrant children.
Following the lengthy trial stemming from the arrest of multiple children who were crossing the border, including Jenny Lisette Flores, the US government agreed to numerous terms regarding the treatment of children by immigration agencies.
Among other things, the federal government agreed to keep children in the least restrictive setting possible and to ensure the prompt release of children from immigration detention.
According to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report published in September of 2018, the Flores agreement was intended as a temporary measure. In the ruling, the government agreed that the agreement would remain in effect for 45 days, which would give the government time to form official legislation to replace it.
However, the government never published any followup legislation, so the Flores Agreement still stands as a legal precedent.
The Trump administration has called the agreement a “loophole,” and suggested that judge Gee is an “activist judge” who is trying to undermine the rule of law.
“For two and a half years, this Administration has worked to restore faithful enforcement of the laws enacted by Congress, while activist judges have imposed their own vision in the place of those duly enacted laws,” a statement from the White House press secretary said, according to NBC News.