Boasberg held a hearing and set the schedule after U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee of Los Angeles ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on June 26 to release children from three family residential centers by July 17, a week from Friday.
Overseeing a long-running lawsuit over ICE custody of children, Gee found that outbreaks at two of the centers had rendered conditions unsafe and unconstitutional, writing that the centers “are ‘on fire’ and there is no more time for half measures.”
Attorneys for ICE said the administration has not decided how it will comply with Gee’s order and asked Boasberg for more time to make detention conditions safer for parents, who filed a separate lawsuit this year before him.
“The remedy for a constitutional violation of conditions of confinement is to remedy the violation, not to release petitioners,” the government said in filings in the case before Boasberg.
Migrant advocates said ICE is giving parents an unacceptable choice of either “ ‘agreeing’ . . . to the trauma of family separation” to protect their children or staying together at greater risk.
About 260 family members — about half of them children — remain at the three facilities that hold families in Texas and Pennsylvania, down from 1,350 in April.
Since June 19, more than 30 people at the three facilities have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the government reports. That includes cases at the Texas facilities — 16 detainees and seven staffers in Karnes County and nine staffers at Dilley. Testing is ongoing.
Gee ordered ICE to release children held longer than 20 days, either by freeing them with their parents or placing them with sponsors.
Gee’s order did not require the release of parents, who are not plaintiffs in the case before her. Parents are represented in a separate lawsuit before Boasberg by the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, the Rapid Defense Network, and ALDEA-The People’s Justice Center, along with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.
As of Tuesday, 2,949 detainees at all ICE facilities have tested positive for the virus, including two who have died, the agency reports. Forty-five ICE employees at agency-run detention centers have also tested positive.
Families make up about 1 percent of detainees, whose average daily population nationwide has dropped to 17,670 as of June 27, the lowest level since 2006.
Fewer than 1,000 children remain in shelters for unaccompanied minors overseen by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. By comparison, ICE and the Office of Refugee Resettlement held about 7,000 children earlier this year.
Most southern U.S. border crossers are being immediately expelled under an emergency order citing the novel coronavirus, including at least 2,000 children. Mexican officials, however, have begun objecting to those entering Mexico from the United States because it has the most confirmed virus cases of any country.
Separately, 80 congressional Democrats have urged Department of Homeland Security officials to allow parents and children to leave together.
“Family separation should never be this country’s policy,” House Democrats wrote in a June 30 letter to acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf and acting ICE director Matthew Albence. “Medical organizations have long stated that the practice creates extraordinary harm to children.”