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A federal judge called on the U.S. government to speed the release of migrant children in detention centers to suitable adult guardians, saying there are serious questions about whether the facilities are safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In an order issued late Saturday, the judge said it would be unwise with the rapidly-spreading contagion to order an immediate, mass release of thousands of children nationwide. But she voiced strong concerns about the failure of immigration authorities to explain why some minors are being held longer than a maximum-allowed period of 20 days and she directed a court-appointed monitor to inspect facilities to ensure they’re following health protocols and aren’t operating above capacity.
U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in Los Angeles said she’s inclined to order Immigration and Customs Enforcement to make “continuous efforts” to release individual children promptly and said she’ll consider objections from the government at an April 10 hearing via video conference.
The judge cited a report by ICE showing that as of February, about 3,359 children were being held in family detention centers, including 1,861 who have been in custody for longer than three months.
Lawyers representing the children have argued they are “sitting ducks” for the deadly virus, arguing it’s impossible for them to practice social distancing or adequate hygiene, whether they are held with their families at ICE facilities or without their families at Office of Refugee Resettlement contract centers.
Gee acknowledged that managers of refugee facilities located in virus hot spots such as New York, California and Washington have taken a number of steps aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19, and she said overcrowding doesn’t appear to be an issue.
But she said that as recently as March 15, ICE’s website didn’t mention social distancing, increased personal hygiene or increased testing, “nor does the ICE guidance recognize the potential psychological harm of quarantining or isolating children for the duration of this pandemic.”
ICE didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gee’s order comes days after two federal judges in New York ordered the release of more than a dozen adult migrants held by ICE — including some in New Jersey jails — and blasted the agency for being indifferent to the medical needs of those in custody.
Read More: ICE Detainees Released on Virus Fears as Judges Blast Agency
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