Interfaith community raises $25,000 to release Afghan teen from California ICE detention center

- After a whirlwind of fundraising and legal battles, an Afghan teenager held in a California ICE detention center will be released on parole as he seeks political asylum to stay in the United States.

Lawyers, students, rabbis, Sikhs, Christians and Muslims all contributed to the $25,000 parole bond to release Hamid, a pseudonym, from ICE custody at the Mesa Verde Detention Center in Bakersfield, where he has been held since December. 

His lawyer, Mariel Villareal of Pangea Legal Services in San Francisco, and students from San Francisco posted the bond Friday at 8 a.m. Villareal is also arranging for Hamid to come to the Bay Area this weekend and then eventually get to Texas, where a family friend will sponsor him as he seeks to stay in this country as an immigrant running away from the Taliban. 

“The interfaith community has been so wonderful,” Villareal said. After sending out letters to hundreds of mosques, gurdwaras, churches and synagogues across the country, the money began pouring in over the last couple days. One person gave an anonymous donation of $10,000. 

ICE had originally fought Hamid’s release altogether, arguing that he was an adult in his 20s and should remain in the adult detention center. Hamid had lied on his passport to flee his country, Villareal said, after his father and brother were killed by the Taliban. As a minor, he couldn’t leave Afghanistan without a parent’s permission.

When he arrived in the United States last year, he told customs agents he was either 16 or 17, as birth certificates aren’t given out in his rural village, and he was taken to an immigrant youth shelter in Pleasanton. In December, ICE used an X-ray of his teeth and argued that he was older than a teenager. Agents moved him to an adult facility in Bakersfield.

Hamid's age was disputed in immigration court on several occasions, Villareal said, who argued that exact age cannot be determined by teeth.

Within the last two weeks, ICE decided to allow Hamid to be released on $35,000 bond – an amount he couldn’t afford to pay. Pangea lawyers started a GoFundMe page, and in the interim, ICE lowered the amount to $25,000.

Along the way, some high school students from the June Jordan School of Equity in San Francisco became interested in Hamid’s case, visiting him in detention last week instead of going on their senior trip. One of the students might be hosting Hamid this weekend before he heads off to Texas, where a family friend lives.

“Although we are rejoicing that Hamid is finally free, we are unsatisfied with the cost of his freedom,” said Jacob Castillo, who graduated from June Jordan this week. “It has cost the community $25,000 and Hamid will be required to wear a GPS tracker at all times. ICE continues to criminalize a 17-year-old who fled to the United States seeking refuge in hopes of one day becoming a doctor.”

While Villareal is glad that Hamid will be released, especially since it is now Ramadan through June 14, she is very disheartened by this case.

“It’s really unfortunate that he had to spend six months in an adult detention center and that his bond was so exorbitant,” Villareal said. “It’s pretty clear the Trump administration is making it clear that if you’re an immigrant who comes here, you’re going to have a miserable time." 

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