Lawsuit claims asylum seeker moved to wrong facility

BROWNSVILLE — A lawsuit was filed this week on behalf of an 18-year-old asylum seeker who was transferred out of child detention and into ICE custody instead of being released to sponsors or a shelter.

The writ of habeas corpus filed on behalf of K.S., a pseudonym, explained that the government transferred the teen, who aged out of the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in December, into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention.

The lawsuit argued that ORR should have released K.S. to one of two listed sponsors or to La Posada Providencia in San Benito, which is one of the only long-term shelters serving asylum seekers along the entire U.S./Mexico border.

The teen’s transfer into the United States instead of into ICE custody would have been in accordance with a section of U.S. law that requires undocumented minors aging out of government custody to be placed in the “least restrictive setting.”

According to the document, K.S. was detained at the Port Isabel Detention Center in early December, where here he remained until the filing of the lawsuit Monday. The attorney representing K.S. with South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR) did not respond to a request for comment this week.

The complaint, filed in federal court in Brownsville, stated that K.S. was detained by U.S. immigration authorities on Feb. 4 of last year. He was designated an unaccompanied child and was subsequently placed under ORR custody, during which time he exhibited good behavior indicating he was not a danger to himself or others, according to the document.

Prior to K.S.’s 18th birthday, a separate immigration attorney requested release on his own recognizance to the ICE juvenile deportation officer responsible for the case, according to the complaint.

The officer, named Eduardo Benavides, “refused to review and give individual consideration of petitioner’s request for release on his own recognizance and instead made prejudicial and generalized conclusions regarding children seeking asylum from [K.S.]’s country of nationality,” the lawsuit stated.

Two attorneys allegedly expressed their concerns about the interaction to Benavides’ supervisor Diana Scott, who was provided with the same packet of information regarding alternatives to ICE detention, but also failed to properly examine the request for release, according to the complaint.

The habeas petition stated that K.S. was transferred into ICE detention in December and that the ICE juvenile deportation officers decided not to release K.S. Rather than considering the least restrictive setting or making alternative programs to detention available, the agency did the opposite, according to the lawsuit.

“ICE’s expressed concerns shared a bias about children from [K.S.]’s country and asylum claims from children represented by counsel. This decision was sustained by Deportation Officer Alejos Martinez, even when we presented another request, which included an additional potential sponsor…,” the complaint stated.

Attorneys argued that ICE routinely fails to comply with guidelines outlined in the section of U.S. code detailing the “least restrictive setting” requirements and that “ICE’s expressed concerns shared a bias about children from [K.S.]’s country and asylum claims from children represented by counsel.”

“Moreover, ICE has failed to establish any policies, programs, or procedures implementing these statutory requirements,” the lawsuit stated.

According to the petition, a deportation officer named Alejos Martinez sustained the decision to transfer [K.S.] into ICE custody despite the presentation of an additional sponsor by attorneys.

A rule put into place by the Trump administration in June 2018 requires potential family sponsors to undergo extensive criminal history and immigration status checks, prolonging processing times for potential family sponsors and discouraging undocumented family members from coming forward to claim children as they age out of ORR custody.