Children's rights advocates Wednesday filed papers in Los Angeles federal court seeking the emergency release of children in immigration custody due to worries of exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
The National Center for Youth Law and other groups applied for a temporary restraining order seeking emergency relief on behalf of children and youth in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
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ORR detains hundreds of children in large facilities where they have little or no ability to practice social distancing or take other measures to avoid contracting the coronavirus, NCYL alleged.
"The urgency here cannot be overstated," said Leecia Welch, NCYL's senior director of legal advocacy and child welfare. "Without immediate steps to reduce the population of youth in congregate care and strict adherence to social distancing, many ORR facilities could become sites of massive infection. More than 1,000 children may be exposed to COVID-19, placing them, program staff, and the general public at high risk of infection or death.''
Welch said that children have been exposed to the virus at two ORR facilities in New York.
The order seeks the expedited release of the young detainees to waiting family members. Requested relief also includes a requirement that children with no one to care for them be transferred immediately to a non- congregate care setting that complies with COVID-19 guidelines issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or be offered the opportunity to file an administrative appeal to challenge their continued placement in highly structured settings under the circumstances.
A hearing date was not immediately set.