April 25 (UPI) — A federal judge in California has ordered the Trump administration to speed up the release of migrant children held in custody, citing the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee said late Friday that the federal government is once again violating the so-called Flores Agreement. The 1993 settlement said, among other things, that children cannot be detained longer than 20 days.
The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law sought an order to release the children, saying the COVID-19 crisis in the United States has delayed work to release the children to guardians. The organization said the Office of Refugee Resettlement halted efforts to reunite the children with their parents or other guardians in places such as California, New York and Washington, to avoid the difficulties of dealing with those states’ stay-at-home orders amid the pandemic.
Meanwhile, coronavirus cases are increasing in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers, where at least 287 migrants have tested positive for the virus. ICE has so far conducted 425 tests for tens of thousands migrants in detention.
Gee quoted the plaintiffs’ medical expert, Dr. Julie Graves, in her order: “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’s order comes days after President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily closing the U.S. borders to migrants. He said the temporary suspension is aimed at protecting U.S. jobs, which have been hampered by the global health crisis.
The coronavirus has sickened more than 905,000 people in the United States and killed at least 51,000 as of Saturday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University.