In this guest post, Linda Rabben—human rights activist, anthropologist, and author of Sanctuary and Asylum: A Social and Political History—draws from recent events in the Pacific Northwest to argue for alternatives to detaining refugees. Dr. Rabben will lecture this week about human rights, the history of sanctuary, and responses to the current refugee crisis at the University of Washington and other Seattle venues.
To many people in the United States, the international refugee crisis seems far away, in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and Asia. But in fact it’s playing out at the local immigrant detention center in Tacoma and in federal court in Seattle.
In mid-2015 a Somali boy fled his home after his father was murdered. He traveled alone through South and Central America to seek refuge in the United States. The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) placed him with a foster family in Portland. But in late 2015 federal officials decided that he was not really a minor. They based their conclusion on a discredited dental radiograph test.
Congress had passed a law in 2008 banning immigration authorities from determining age solely on the basis of dental radiographs. But ORR agents arrested the boy at his high school in Portland anyway. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) then shipped him to Northwest Detention Center, a private facility for adults in Tacoma.
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, a Seattle advocacy group, filed a habeas corpus petition on the boy’s behalf. In a May press release NWIRP legal director Matt Adams called ICE’s actions “indefensible. Instead of protecting unaccompanied children, and focusing enforcement actions on those who pose an actual threat to the community, they targeted a child, who, after escaping horrible violence, was now integrated with his foster family, his high school and community.”