It was not a happy birthday for a young immigrant from Mexico who turned 18 this weekend at a youth center in Los Angeles County. Despite having filed for asylum, Erik Javier Flores Hernandez was taken into custody on Saturday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and transferred to an adult detention facility.
Flores entered the country illegally last year, allegedly fleeing death threats from drug-related gangs. According to his lawyers, Flores' mother and grandmother are believed to have been kidnapped and killed by those gangs five years ago.
“Erik has family in the community who are willing to sponsor him. Erik has volunteers who have offered to help connect him with resources to help him heal,” the Immigrant Defenders Law Center stated in a Facebook post.
The Los Angeles-based law firm is urging ICE officials to release Flores on his own recognizance, highlighting that he has no criminal record.
Upon entering the U.S., Flores was placed in one of the many shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.
“We expect to get him out on bond from immigration detention eventually, but he’ll have to at least initially fight his [deportation] case inside detention and go through the trauma of having been picked up and shackled,” said his lawyer Lindsay Toczylowski to the L.A. Daily News.
Toczylowski told the Times her law firm had never had a case like this and compared the transfer “to putting [someone] in criminal custody when he has no criminal history.”
In a statement, a spokesperson said ICE is currently reviewing the circumstances of Hernandez’s case to determine appropriate next steps.
“Individuals being housed in centers operated by the Department of Health and Human Services that are designed to hold unaccompanied alien children may not appropriately remain in those facilities once they reach age 18, as Mr. Flores now has,” the statement read.
“Accordingly, he was transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody Saturday and will be moved to a facility used to house immigration detainees who are 18 and older.”