The boy, who fled Somalia after his father was murdered, had been taken from his foster family and placed in a detention center in Tacoma — based on a dental-bone scan. “They targeted a child,” said an immigrant-rights advocate.
A federal judge in Seattle has ordered immigration officials to release a Somali teenager who was taken from his Oregon foster family and placed in an adult detention center in Tacoma.
U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman said in her order, released Tuesday, that the Office of Refugee Resettlement violated the law by saying the boy was no longer a minor based solely on a dental bone-scan analysis, called radiography.
The boy fled Somalia after his father was murdered and requested asylum at a port of entry in Texas. The resettlement agency placed him in a shelter and then sent him to a foster home in Portland. He was enrolled at a high school.
Officials said on Dec. 9 that they no longer believed he was a minor, based on the bone scan, and moved him to adult detention.
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Pechman said a law enacted in 2008 precludes the government from determining age exclusively with the bone tests.
Messages left with the Department of Justice lawyer who handled the case were not immediately returned.
Matt Adams, legal director for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said the agency’s actions were indefensible.
“Instead of protecting unaccompanied children and focusing enforcement actions on those who pose an actual threat to the community, they targeted a child,” Adams said in a statement.
The teenager, who was identified only by initials in court records, said the experience was frightening, the rights group said in its statement.
The teen said that when authorities put him in handcuffs, they didn’t talk to him and just said he was over 18, the group said. While at the Tacoma facility, the teen said, he was so scared that he couldn’t sleep for days and could barely eat.
Pechman ordered him released until he turns 18, when he will be returned to the custody of immigration officials.