A federal judge ordered immigration authorities on Friday to release migrant children held at family detention centers.
Dolly Gee, a specially assigned judge who oversees conditions for migrant children in U.S. custody, directed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to match minors held longer than 20 days with suitable sponsors or release them with their parents.
But there could be some exceptions. Gee wrote in her ruling that a parent failing to consent to their child residing with a sponsor or a lack of sponsor can both be deemed excusable reasons for keeping a minor in detention.
“No parent or child wants to be separated from each other. Family integrity is a human right,” Andrea Meza, legal services at director at RAICES, which advocates for detained families, told ABC News. “Today, Judge Gee did a good thing by lighting a fire under ICE for them to release families together.”
According to the court filing, 124 children were held at the detention facilities as of June 8. ICE maintains three family centers in Texas and Pennsylvania.
The decision comes as the first cases of COVID-19 were reported at one of the Texas centers this week. Eleven detainees tested positive at the facility in Karnes County, Texas, according to an independent monitor tasked with collecting data on the facilities. Advocates have called on the administration to release migrants due to increased risk of exposure in common areas with other families.
Gee underscored in her ruling that the detention centers were “on fire” and that “renewed and more vigorous efforts must be undertaken” to transfer vulnerable children from the facilities.
Increased focus on the Texas facilities comes as the state reports a large increase in coronavirus cases. Texas reported 5,000 new cases on Friday, one of the highest number of new cases recorded in the state in a single day.
In her ruling Friday, Gee is critical of the administration for at times falling short of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“ICE’s critical areas of improvement are in social distancing, masking, and testing—in other words, the basics,” Gee writes in her ruling.
Judge Gee gave ICE a July 17 deadline to release the minors while requiring the agency to continue with disease prevention measures in the interim, including social distancing, mask-wearing and enhanced testing in federal facilities.
ABC News' Victoria Moll Ramirez contributed to this report.