By Meghan Bobrowsky, Annabelle Zhou and Diana Lee,
Fourteen-year-old G.E.* fled Honduras to escape an abusive family situation, traveling over 1,400 miles from his native country to reach Texas. Upon entering the U.S., however, he was jailed.
Although G.E. was granted asylum on Jan. 10 of this year, he remained locked up in the Yolo County Juvenile Detention Center for an additional two months. Yesterday, he was released to a foster home.
Since G.E. entered the country about a year ago, Yolo County has been cooperating with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement to “provide care in a secure facility for unaccompanied minor children,” according to Yolo County Public Information Officer Beth Gabor.
Gabor could not comment on the specific case, but explained that “federal law requires ORR to continue to detain a child even after he or she is granted asylum until a suitable custodian can be located.”
Sara Ehsani-Nia, a member of the UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic, understood the law. But she did not see any reason to continue holding G.E. after Jan. 10. So she started working on a writ of habeas corpus with another member of the UC Davis ILC, Eduardo Osorio, in early February.
“There was no legal reason [to keep G.E.] inside of the immigration jail. They terminated his deportation hearings and gave him status,” Ehsani-Nia said.
She was trying to give G.E. what he wanted—freedom. He had been moved around several detention centers across the nation. Ehsani-Nia added that it is not uncommon for kids in asylum limbo to be moved around frequently.
However, there is a lack of services and centers available for kids like G.E.. As a result, they are placed in detention centers with other youth who have committed crimes.
“[They’re] being treated like prisoners. Why does he have to be inside such a terrible setting? I understand if you want to keep a close tab on them, but this seems cruel,” Ehsani-Nia said.
Seth Sanders, a religious studies professor at UC Davis and member of Indivisible Yolo, agreed with Ehsani-Nia. He worked with fellow Indivisible Yolo member Emily Hill to put together a rally advocating for G.E.’s release.
Indivisible Yolo’s action team, led by Sanders, coordinated with G.E.’s legal team, found speakers and publicized the event, according to Hill.
Their plan worked better than anticipated: G.E.’s was released from the Yolo County Juvenile Detention Center a day before the planned rally. Sanders said the group would forge ahead with the rally anyways “to let him know we’re still thinking about him.”
“We rally to celebrate G.E.’s freedom and welcome him to Yolo, but equally to remember: he is not the only one. To everyone else arbitrarily detained – we have not forgotten you,” Hill said.
Sanders cited Congressman John Garamendi as instrumental to the process as well as the ability of Indivisible Yolo to effectively organize.
“If you show up and organize, you can get things done. It’s interesting how these things work. Kids’ stories are powerful, and young people can learn from this stuff,” Sanders said.
Hill, however, is not convinced the problem is solved. She worries that there are several more children like G.E. being locked up for seeking “freedom and safety.” Indivisible Yolo does not know the specifics of these children’s cases.
“We are very concerned that other youths are being detained much longer than is just,” Hill said.
Hill says that the group will keep fighting for the rights of children who are detained and not permitted a paid attorney.
“We are a better, stronger, kinder nation when we are united, and when we recognize the contributions of everyone in our communities,” Hill said. “We will not let Trump turn us against each other. We will stand indivisible.”
*Name is being withheld because G.E. is a minor.