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Judge postpones deadline for ICE to release minors from family detention facilities

Judge orders ICE to release migrant children
Judge orders ICE to release migrant children, citing coronavirus 06:14

A federal judge in California on Thursday gave the Trump administration 10 more days to release migrant children who have been detained with their parents for more than 20 days, frustrating advocates who have raised concerns about the growing coronavirus cases among immigrant detainees.

The initial deadline ordered by U.S. Judge Dolly Gee of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles was Friday, July 17. Now, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has until July 27 to comply with Gee's mandate by releasing families from the three family detention centers together, or by asking the parents whether they would consent to their children being released to sponsors without them.

The deadline extension had been requested Wednesday in a joint filing by the Justice Department and Peter Schey, the lead lawyer representing minors in litigation surrounding the Flores Settlement Agreement. Gee oversees the government's compliance with the 1997 court settlement, which affords certain protections to migrant minors in U.S. custody, including a requirement that officials continuously pursue their release to sponsors like family members in the U.S.

There are approximately 300 parents and children detained at two family detention facilities in Texas and one in Pennsylvania. At least 39 migrant family members at the Karnes family detention center in Texas have tested positive for the coronavirus. Several employees there and at the other facility in Dilley, Texas, have also contracted the virus, according to court documents.

In her June order, Gee cited the coronavirus cases among migrants and staff at the family detention centers. But because the Flores agreement does not provide any rights to adults, she did not order the release of parents. Instead, she said ICE could, as one of the options, use its broad parole authority to free parents alongside their children.

In recent court papers, however, government lawyers have signaled that ICE is not looking to release all the families that have children who have been detained for 20 days. Instead, ICE has been working to establish a process in which it can ask parents whether they would allow their children to be released without them.

Schey and the Justice Department requested the extension because the two parties have not yet agreed on mechanisms to inform parents of their children's rights and forms to place minors with sponsors, if parents consent to such an action.

In an interview with CBS News on Wednesday, Schey said "it's tragic that ICE, especially during this COVID pandemic, is unwilling to release a very small number of parents being detained with their children." But he added that some parents may prefer to have their children released, even if it means that they will be deported without them, rather than facing indefinite detention with them.

But direct attorneys for the families have opposed this mechanism, calling it a coercive choice for parents that could lead to family separation. Shalyn Fluharty, the lead lawyer at Proyecto Dilley, a group of pro-bono attorneys representing families at the Dilley facility, said ICE should release parents and children together. She said the agency can't ask parents whether they would allow their children to be released to sponsors because it has failed to provide them with the information needed to make such a choice.

"Our moms don't know if they will be deported without their kids if they are separated. They don't know if their children are released, if they will have an opportunity to talk to an immigration judge," Fluharty told CBS News.

Fluharty said she also opposed the 10-day deadline extension request made by Schey and the government.

"Every single day is one more day that a child could die in detention. The circumstances in all three family detention facilities are dire. The risk to our clients is grave," she added.

ICE said it is complying with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to protect migrants and personnel, screening those who may be at increased risk of contracting the coronavirus and offering tests to all detainees at the family detention facilities. 

"As part of the Department of Homeland Security's homeland security mission, our trained law enforcement professionals adhere to the Department's mission and values, and uphold our laws while continuing to provide the nation with safety and security," an ICE spokesperson said in a statement to CBS News late Thursday.

The spokesperson said the agency can't comment further because of ongoing litigation.

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