Judge orders release of migrant children over coronavirus

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement must release children held in the country’s three family detention centers by July 17 because of the danger posed by the coronavirus, a federal judge in Los Angeles ordered.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee said in a ruling Friday that children 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 even to their own parents, who can also be released if conditions warrant it.

The centers “are ‘on fire’ and there is no more time for half measures,” Gee wrote.

She criticized the conditions, citing "unevenly implemented written protocols," employees with COVID-19 at one Texas facility, and 11 detainees with the virus at a family residential center in Kansas.

"The court is not surprised that COVID-19 has arrived" at ICE and U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities, Gee wrote.

Gee ordered ICE to try to ensure the virus doesn't spread at migrant detention facilities.

"ICE shall urgently enforce its existing COVID-19 protocols," she said, including social distancing, requiring mask use, and testing.

The ruling is part of ongoing litigation over the Flores agreement that covers how U.S. immigration officials treat migrant children.

Related: A day in the life of the migrant caravan in Mexico