SAN FRANCISCO – Attorneys say they're seeking the release of a 14-year-old Honduran boy who has been locked up in a Northern California juvenile hall for nearly a year, even though he has no criminal record and has been granted asylum.
The teen was apprehended last March trying to enter the U.S. alone at a Texas border crossing. His asylum case documented severe abuse by his parents and caregivers in Honduras.
The boy is being held at the Yolo County Juvenile Detention Facility in Woodland, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, (http://bit.ly/2lte9ct ).
The teen receives little treatment for the trauma he's suffered and should be in foster care, said Cecilia Candia, a staff attorney with San Francisco's Legal Services for Children who visits the teen weekly.
The newspaper isn't naming the boy, citing his age and mental health condition.
Candia said the boy's trauma has only been worsened by his indefinite detention, adding that he spends most of his time alone in his cell and has repeatedly tried to harm himself. He has lashed out at times, she said, causing staff to douse him with pepper spray or bind his wrists and ankles.
"He has behavioral issues in this jail which are directly related to his mental health," Candia said. "He's hypervigilant, he reacts very strongly to perceived threats, he's always in that fight-or-flight response."
Candia, who is building the case for the teen's release, said she's filing a petition challenging his detention as unlawful in federal court in the coming weeks.
Officials involved in the boy's case, including the federal Administration for Children and Families and its Office of Refugee Resettlement, declined to comment, citing confidentiality protections for minors.
Yolo County spokeswoman Beth Gabor said the county's contract with the federal government prohibits local officials from discussing specific cases. But, she said federal law requires the refugee agency "to continue to detain a child even after he or she is granted asylum," until they can find a safe placement that takes into consideration "all of his or her social, behavioral and mental health needs."
Candia said the boy was ecstatic when he was granted asylum in January after being told it would mean his imminent release. Now, she said he's in despair.
"On the outside, myself and others have been working really hard. But he doesn't see any results, so it's really difficult," Candia said. "He's feeling really hopeless."
About 155,000 children have crossed the nation's southern border alone in the last three years, the majority fleeing violent gangs, poverty and domestic abuse in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement looks for "the least-restrictive settings" for the minors, and 98 percent are placed within a network of 100 shelters in 11 states and typically released to relatives within about a month.
Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com