A judge affirmed a ruling this week that federal immigration officials unlawfully used a dental exam to determine that a teenaged Somali asylum seeker was an adult, and wrongly detained him in the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
The teenager, identified in court documents by his initials B.I.C., had entered the United States in August 2015 and applied for asylum as a minor. He was issued a special immigrant juvenile visa and sent to live with a foster mother in Portland. However, in December the Office of Refugee Resettlement said that based on a dental bone scan, they no longer believed that he was a minor.
The teenager had traveled through South and Central America in order to reach the United States, and had destroyed his identification documents so he would not get sent back to Somalia, according to the court filings, so he had no documentation for his age.
With the dental bone scan as the only piece of evidence that he was an adult, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested the teenager from his high school near Portland and took him to the Northwest Detention Center in December.
He was released after two months, after the Northwest Immigrants Rights Project filed a suit seeking the teenager’s release. Chief Magistrate Judge James Donahue ruled that using a bone density scan as the sole piece of evidence of someone’s age violates federal law and that the teenager should be freed.
Donahue’s recommendation was adopted this week by U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman, who also threw out ORR’s determination that he was an adult when he was first taken into custody.