Twenty-eight detained migrant parents and their children are facing deportation after refusing to separate in order to keep them safe from COVID-19, which continues to pose a higher threat to incarcerated populations. Lawyers representing the families, who are being held in Pennsylvania and Texas, said they lost an appeal in federal court for the right to claim asylum in the U.S., NBC News reports. 

As Colorlines reported in July, immigrant families held in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were told they had to decide whether they would separate from their children in an effort to keep them safe from the virus or stay detained with them. According to NBC, all 28 parents who are now facing deportation decided to stay with their children, despite the fact that many of them had been detained for more than 400 days.

Reports NBC:

In July, a federal judge ruled the children should be released from the centers, potentially triggering separations, but later that order was deemed “unenforceable.”

The “stay of deportation” that allowed the families to stay in the U.S. expired on Sunday, according to court documents, and the families are pleading with courts, Congress and ICE not to deport them until their asylum claims have been heard.

The families were unable to claim asylum in front of a U.S. immigration judge because of President Trump’s policy denying immigrants the right to claim asylum if they passed through another country where they could have sought asylum. Although that immigration policy has since been overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, NBC reports “immigrants who entered the U.S. when it was in place were not helped by the decision.”

ICE wouldn’t comment on ongoing litigation in a statement to NBC. However, the agency insisted that it “continues to safely conduct the release, transfer, and removal of families housed at the Berks Family Residential Center” in Pennsylvania.

“With more pressing issues facing ICE and the need to spend our limited federal resources wisely, there are more cost-effective and humane approaches to this situation,” Democratic Senators Bob Casey (Pennsylvania) and Cory Booker (New Jersey) wrote in a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf on November 20. “We urge you to release these families to their sponsors and allow them a fair hearing of their case.”