A Los Angeles federal judge ordered the government Friday to "make every effort to promptly and safely release" the thousands of immigrant children in custody who have suitable guardians.
U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ruled that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Office of Refugee Resettlement violated a 1997 agreement guaranteeing all detained immigrant children the right to safe and sanitary conditions of detention and to promptly release them to sponsors living in the United States.
Gee ruled the government violated the settlement, commonly known as the Flores agreement, by not releasing minors without unnecessary delay, refusing to release minors to some relatives unless the relatives were first fingerprinted, and continuing to keep children in custody even though their legal proceedings were ongoing and therefore could not be deported.
Gee quoted Dr. Julie DeAun Graves in her ruling, "Postponing the release of children in facilities with known COVID-19 exposure is like leaving them in a burning house rather than going in to rescue them and take them to safety."
Gee also ordered two court-appointed juvenile coordinators to submit to the court reports detailing the government's compliance with the court's order and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations, including plans to identify and protect children at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19, and individualized assessments of children subject to removal orders.
Gee and counsel for the children will continue to monitor the government's compliance with this order and report back to the court before a further hearing on May 22.
The nationwide order was issued at the request of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, a Los Angeles-based human rights organization that filed the suit leading to the Flores agreement.
Peter Schey, one of the attorneys who filed the original lawsuit in 1986 and continues as co-lead counsel in the case, said Friday's ruling "simply requires the government to comply with an agreement it reached with us in 1997 by providing children with safe detention conditions and prompt family reunification with relatives living here."
"The Trump administration should have taken immediate steps to come into full compliance with the settlement as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic began to threaten the health and well-being of detained children," Schey said. "This ruling may very well prevent detained children from becoming very ill in the coming weeks, or worse dying while in federal custody."
Gee had issued a temporary nationwide restraining order in the case on March 28 and extended it on April 10 to April 24.
President Donald Trump has denounced the Flores agreement and is trying to reverse it on appeal after Gee denied a government request last year to terminate the agreement based on new regulations the administration issued dealing with the detention of children.