Header Photo Credit: Karen Holland, during 2019’s protests at Homestead Detention Center
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are facing a new family separation crisis.
On June 26, U.S. Federal District Judge Dolly Gee issued an order that all children and teens under 18 must be released from the three immigrant family detention centers – Dilley and Karnes in Texas, and Berks in Pennsylvania – by a deadline of July 17. Recognizing that conditions in these centers facilitate the dangerous spread of COVID-19, she described the family detention centers as “on fire.” (Update: the deadline has since been pushed back, please learn more toward the bottom of this page.)
Despite freeing the children, Judge Gee doesn’t have the power to order the release of the parents in these detained families, who are represented in a separate lawsuit that will not be resolved before the July 17 release of the children. As this Friday’s deadline approaches, it has been left up to ICE whether or not to enact a new wave of family separations.
There are three possible scenarios: release the children and parents together, preserving families and saving lives; ignore the order entirely and face more legal challenges as the dangers of COVID-19 escalate; or separate families by releasing children without their parents, even if it’s against their and their parents’ will. Some of these kids would end up in the nightmare of foster care despite having loving, competent parents.
From the horrors of summer 2018, when over 4,000 children were forcibly removed from their parents at the border while seeking asylum, we know the long-lasting trauma that separation causes, which continues even when families are reunified. Children sent to foster homes enter a complex process as their case is separated from that of their parents, leading to parents being deported without them and facing multiple barriers to getting their kids back across borders.
As of this writing, there are nearly 30 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the children and parents detained at the Karnes County Family Detention Center in Texas. Many of the families are from Haiti, Angola, and the Congo, meaning that Black migrants have been particularly impacted. Nearby at the Dilley family detention center four employees have tested positive. Families absolutely cannot stay in this environment – and they deserve to be together and free.
Please act now to tell ICE to #FreeThemAll and keep families together! Take action to contact ICE Field Office Directors in Philadelphia and San Antonio via our tool below – after you fill in your information, click “Find Legislators” and you’ll be taken to the email forms.
Update, 7/17/20: The deadline to release children from detention centers has been pushed back by 10 days to July 27, increasing danger for families being exposed to COVID-19. Please join us in taking action.
Update, 8/1/20: Families still have not been released, though children have not been separated, which means they are all still at high risk for COVID-19 spread in detention. On July 22, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled against releasing the parents. Consequently, Judge Gee, who had ordered the release of the children over a month before, called her own order “unenforceable” because the conditions had not been met. The conditions were that parents either agree to releasing their kids to others, or parents get released with the kids. ICE easily could and continues to refuse to release parents. The fight is not over and we must continue the pressure.