Kids remain in ICE custody as federal judge’s deadline for release comes and goes

Note: this article mentions Government Accountability Project and our Senior Counsel Dana Gold, and was originally published here.

A federal judge’s deadline for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release children detained with their parents at migrant family jails came and went on Monday. Over 100 children, who are currently detained in facilities that Judge Dolly Gee herself said are “on fire” due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, remain detained past her deadline because her order was now apparently “unenforceable,” NBC News’ Julia Ainsley and Jacob Soboroff explained.

“Judge Dolly Gee of the Central District of California said Saturday that the conditions she laid out in June as prerequisites for releasing the children from detention over COVID-19 concerns had not been met,” the report said. “Namely, the children’s parents had not agreed to release them, Immigration and Customs Enforcement had not agreed to release parents with their children, and another court with jurisdiction over the parents had not ordered their release.”

As advocates like immigration attorney Amy Maldonado have said, none of this has to be happening. “They could let people out tomorrow,” told Mother Jones. “They could have let people out six months ago.” Yet the Trump administration has been steadfastly against releasing children and their parents together, which is the right thing to do.

Instead, as Prism’s Tina Vasquez has reported, officials have been looking toward forcing a “binary choice” on parents that’s no choice at all: “The protocol will force parents detained alongside their children during the pandemic to choose between remaining detained in unsafe facilities where a deadly virus is spreading, or sending their children away to live with sponsors,” she wrote.

As BuzzFeed News reported earlier this month, officials may still proceed with their inhumane plan in spite of medical experts hired by the administration itself loudly warning about the traumatic effects of family separation on kids and their parents.

“That ICE is considering repeating one of the darkest moments of this administration—separating children from their families—knowing this will cause serious medical and psychological harm to children is nothing less than willful endangerment,” Dana Gold, an attorney at the Government Accountability Project who represents the experts, told BuzzFeed News. “That DHS’s own medical and mental health experts need to speak up to try to prevent this agency from inflicting imminent harm on innocent children is another grotesque example of the government ignoring its medical experts.”

ICE has insisted conditions inside facilities are safe when we know that ICE has misled the public when it comes to the pandemic. ICE’s tally of COVID-19 among detention facility employees lists only 45 confirmed cases; that number is so low because the agency isn’t counting contracted workers. In reality, more than 900 detention staffers have tested positive. “Forty-seven cases of the virus have been documented at the Karnes family detention center and one at the Dilley detention center, both located in Texas,” Mother Jones reported. “And lawyers say their clients still aren’t being adequately protected.”

What happens next to these children is unclear, and even a former Department of Homeland Security official tells Ainsley and Soboroff that what the Trump administration is doing—or refusing to do, rather—is intentional brutality: “‘It’s preposterous,’ said a former ICE official who served during both the Obama and Trump administrations. ‘There’s no reason other than cruelty.’”