Judge says US failed to promptly release detained immigrant children from 'hotbeds for contagion'

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A federal judge in Los Angeles has found that the federal government failed to promptly release immigrant children from detention facilities that are “hotbeds for contagion.”

Ruling Saturday, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ordered the government to provide an accounting of efforts to release the children by April 6 and to show cause by April 10 why she shouldn’t issue a preliminary injunction requiring continuous release of children to suitable custodians.

In the meantime, Gee said, government agencies “shall make every effort to promptly and safely release” the children.

An en masse release, however, would not serve the children’s interest, she said. Even lawyers for the children agree that “an orderly, yet prompt, disposition of minors’ claims of suitable placement is a responsible way to proceed,” she said.

The New York Times and CBS News have coverage of Gee’s decision.

About 3,600 children are held in shelters operated under a license from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. About 3,300 children are held with their parents in detention facilities operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Four children in an Office of Refugee Resettlement facility in New York have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, Gee said. At least one child in ICE care is in quarantine and awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.

Gee said ICE appears to be departing from COVID-19 guidelines for protection from the virus, while the Office of Refugee Settlement appears to be in substantial compliance.

Gee is overseeing the 1997 Flores settlement that provides standards of care for children in immigration detention.

The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law asked Gee to require the release of the immigrant children if they are not flight risks and if they don’t pose a danger to themselves or others. The group’s president is Peter Schey, one of two lawyers who filed the original suit that led to the Flores settlement.

Gee said the plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on their claim that the ORR and ICE failed to comply with settlement obligations to release children without unnecessary delay.

“Because COVID-19 poses unprecedented threats to the safety of class members and all who come in contact with them, including ORR and ICE staff, healthcare providers, and local populations, the court finds that any unexplained delay in releasing a child in ORR and ICE custody” violates the settlement, she wrote.

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