A teen who fled his native Honduras to seek asylum in the United States, fearing for his life, was housed in a temporary shelter for unaccompanied children until his 18th birthday — at which point he was transferred to a jail cell, his attorney said.
On April 8, the day he turned 18, Nolbiz’s wrists were handcuffed and chained to his waist, and his legs shackled together at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children in South Miami-Dade. From there, he was moved to the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach — where he was placed in a cell with men in their 40s and 60s, the Miami New Times reported.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement refused to release Nolbiz to relatives in Nebraska — and immigration attorneys, who have been successful in forcing ICE to release other 18-year-olds, say his treatment by ICE is illegal.
“On their 18th birthdays, ICE literally shows up, puts them and handcuffs, and takes them off to an adult facility where they are put in an orange jumpsuit, and they are housed in a prison with all adults,” said Lisa Lehner, an attorney for nonprofit Americans for Immigrant Justice. “It’s just a continuing course of trauma that’s totally, totally unnecessary.”
The Daily News is not using the teen’s last name to protect his identity in case he is forced to return home.
Lehner, who is representing the teen, said at least 14 children at the Homestead center have been transferred to Broward on their 18th birthdays. She and her colleagues have filed seven lawsuits on their behalf, prompting ICE to release five of the immigrants to relatives or guardians living in the U.S.
An ICE spokesperson insisted the agency was acting in accordance with federal law and agency policy.
But Lehner disputes the legality of the practice, citing multiple legal precedents that require ICE to first work to unite juvenile immigrants with family members before throwing them in jail.
“It violates specific, federal law and goes against congressional intent as to what is supposed to be happening with these kids,” Lehner told the Daily News. “There are two federal statutes that say when a child turns 18, it’s the responsibility of ICE to find the least restrictive setting for them to take residence if they are going to be staying in the country. Instead of finding the least restrictive setting, they are putting them in the most restrictive setting.”
In 1997, the government agreed to release juvenile immigrants to family members — or into the “least restrictive” setting — as quickly as possible.
In 2008, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act further cemented the same protections for unaccompanied minors.
Congress, in 2013, extended the protections to immigrant children who turn 18 and are taken into ICE custody.
But the Office of Refugee Resettlement has made minimal efforts to transfer kids to relatives, Lehner said.