Gee’s order said ICE was detaining 124 children in its centres, which are separate from Department of Health and Human Services facilities for unaccompanied children that were holding around 1000 children in early June.
The numbers in both systems have fallen significantly since earlier in the Trump administration because the US is expelling most people trying to cross the border or requiring them to wait for their immigration cases in Mexico.
More than 2500 people in US Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody have tested positive for COVID-19.
More than 2500 people in ICE custody have tested positive for COVID-19. The agency says it has released at least 900 people considered to have heightened medical risk and reduced the populations at its three family detention centres. But in court filings last month, ICE said it considered most of the people in family detention to be flight risks because they had pending deportation orders or cases under review.
Gee oversees a long-running court settlement governing the US government’s treatment of immigrant children known as the Flores agreement. Her order does not directly apply to the parents detained with their children.
Gee’s order says ICE can decline to release a child if there is not a suitable sponsor, the child’s parent waives rights under the Flores agreement, or if there is a “prior unexplained failure to appear at a scheduled hearing”.
ICE did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
But most parents last month refused to designate a sponsor when ICE officials unexpectedly asked them who could take their children if the adults remained detained, according to lawyers for the families. The agency said then it was conducting a “routine parole review consistent with the law” and Gee’s previous orders.
Advocates contend that ICE should release all families from detention especially as the coronavirus has spread rapidly through immigration centres. In court filings revealed on Thursday, ICE said 11 children and parents had tested positive for COVID-19 at the family detention centre in Karnes City, Texas.
At the centre in nearby Dilley, at least three parents and children – including a child who turned two this week – were placed in isolation after two private contractors and an ICE official tested positive for the virus.
Amy Maldonado, a lawyer who works with detained families, said Gee “clearly recognised that the government is not willing to protect the health and safety of the children, which is their obligation”.
“They [authorities] need to make the sensible choice and release the parents to care for their children.”