On Wednesday, a federal judge rejected a plea to release immigrant families from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody in response to growing concern over the spread of COVID-19.

Judge James Boasberg, U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Columbia, denied the blanket release of all families, believing that other options need to be considered. He said ICE had shown its adoption of safety guidelines to protect detainees from the virus, but concurred that “the agency continues to fall short of full compliance with its policies in practice.” This rejection means that parents will have to choose between separating from their children or risk exposing them to the virus by staying together in a confined setting.

Immigrant advocates have been encouraging the Trump administration to release families in custody, arguing that the most effective way to halt the spread of the virus is a release of all detainees. Last month, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ordered the release of children detained for more than 20 days. However, there were concerns that ICE would force families to separate since the order didn’t cover children’s parents. Lawyers were intentional this time in asking for the release of parents as well.

In the ruling, Boasberg acknowledges the issues raised by the plaintiffs, including a failure to implement mask-wearing and social distancing practices at ICE facilities. Individuals detained at these facilities have described bleak conditions where social distancing is actually impossible and COVID-19 symptoms are managed improperly. Although these conditions are frequently denied by ICE, a June report by the Inspector General found that “facilities reported concerns with their inability to practice social distancing among detainees, and to isolate or quarantine individuals who may be infected with COVID-19.”

Attorneys for the detained families are reviewing their options. “Holding asylum seeking families in facilities with active COVID outbreaks or making them give up their kids to protect them is constitutionally punitive,” said attorney Amy Maldonado.

The number of positive coronavirus cases in ICE facilities continues to grow. There have been over 3,700 confirmed cases in custody, and there are currently over 900 detainees who are in isolation or monitoring.

Sources: CNN 7/22/20; Washington Post 7/22/20; Feminist Newswire 7/16/20

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