US District Court Judge Dolly Gee ruled on Friday that the federal government cannot keep migrant children detained during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In its minutes, the court stated that while it “appreciates both ICE’s and ORR’s efforts to reduce the number of Class Members in their custody during the pandemic,” the plaintiffs challenging the ongoing custody of migrants “identified issues, mistakes, or omissions in both the ORR and ICE Juvenile Coordinators’ reports.”
The court ordered that, by July 17, ICE must release minors to available sponsors or with their guardians “with all deliberate speed” while also maintaining protocols such as social distancing, masking, and enhanced testing within detention areas. Furthermore, the court ordered that the ICE Juvenile Coordinator will supply reports on their compliance with the release or transfer of minors. While both parties will still have the opportunity to respond to the order, the court has already scheduled a video status conference for August 7 to discuss compliance.
The case originated in 1997 when the government entered the Flores Agreement to protect all minors in immigration-related detention. Since 1977 there have been changes to the government’s policies as well as broader immigration law resulting in a gap between the original purpose of the law and present-day implementation.