A federal judge on Wednesday denied a blanket request to release families in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Immigration advocates and lawyers have urged the Trump administration to release families who are in federal immigration custody, given the confined setting and potential spread of coronavirus.
“Holding asylum seeking families in facilities with active Covid outbreaks or making them give up their kids to protect them is unconstitutionally punitive,” said Amy Maldonado, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
In a separate lawsuit in California, a federal judge found that ICE’s Covid-19 protocols fell short and ordered the release of children. That case set up the potential that children could be separated from their families. The deadline for release, which had been extended, is July 27.
Families are detained in three facilities run by ICE – Berks in Pennsylvania, South Texas (Dilley) and Karnes County in Texas. Children at the facilities range from 1 year old to 17 years old, according to lawyers and advocates who provide legal assistance.
The case before Judge James Boasberg in the US District Court for the District of Columbia called for the release of families, not just children. He didn’t agree with the plaintiffs request to release everyone.
In a 26-page ruling, Boasberg details the precautions taken by the government, like mask use, and addresses issues raised by plaintiffs, like lack of social distancing and medical care. Despite recognizing steps taken by ICE and shortfalls alleged by plaintiffs, Boasberg said other options, outside of blanket release, need to be considered.
“Petitioners, fearful as we all are of contracting a novel and dangerous disease, understandably swing for the fences in seeking wholesale release,” Boasberg wrote. “Those fences are high and hard to clear, however, as Petitioners must demonstrate that no court-ordered remedy other than their release will do.”
Attorneys for the families are reviewing their options.
There are 933 detainees in ICE custody with positive coronavirus cases who are under isolation or monitoring as of July 21, according to ICE. There are 22 cases in Karnes, one of the family detention centers.
Overall, there have been more than 3,700 confirmed cases in custody.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct a quote from plaintiff attorney Amy Maldonado.