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By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

A federal judge has ruled that families held in immigration detention facilities must be released after finding that their detention was in serious violation of an earlier court settlement.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in California ruled that children and their mothers — many among the people fleeing from violence in Central America — no longer can be locked up. Gee found that federal officials had violated an 18-year-old court settlement regarding the detention of migrant children.

Gee blasted federal officials in his ruling, writing that children had been held in substandard conditions at two detention centers in Texas.

“It is astonishing that Defendants have enacted a policy requiring such expensive infrastructure without more evidence to show that it would be complaint with an Agreement that has been in effect for nearly 20 years,” Gee wrote.

The ruling is a major setback for Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who opened family detention facilities after a significant increase in children and parents at the U.S.-Mexico border — most from Central America crossing the Southwest border — last summer.

It’s unclear whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement will appeal the ruling. The government is detaining 1,700 parents and children at three detention facilities, two in Texas and one in Pennsylvania.

The judge gave Homeland Security officials until August 3 to devise a plan to release mothers and children.

Photo: Otay Detention Center in California. BBC World Service via Flickr

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