A top Department of Homeland Security official Tuesday called a Los Angeles federal jurist who ordered the release of migrant children from DHS custody “an activist judge” who wants to separate immigrant families.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee, who presides over the landmark 1997 Flores settlement agreement that sets national standards on the treatment, detention and release of immigrant children in federal custody, previously ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release detained immigrant youth who’ve been held for more than 20 days at the agency’s Family Residential Centers.

Gee said that while her release mandate was likely “unenforceable by its own terms,” she wrote that the federal government should continue to release class members where conditions are unsafe due to the threat of the coronavirus. In August, the judge expressed concern that releases of migrant children remained rare, despite her order.

In response to Gee’s position, DHS Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said that under President Donald Trump, “the administration is committed to keeping families together, but an activist judge is preparing to order the separation of families in DHS custody.”

“DHS will not assist in this process without a court order,” Cuccinelli said in a statement. “Under the judge’s new policy, countless children may be released into the United States without lawful status and without their parents. Instead of creating new loopholes, we should be enforcing our laws.”

Gee set a telephonic status conference on Dec. 4.

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