Immigration judges determines Afghan is in 20s, should remain in adult ICE detention center

Hamid, a pseudonymn, and his dental records. Source: Pangea Legal Services

A San Francisco-based immigration judge reversed a determination on Monday, saying now that a young Afghan man seeking asylum is likely older than 18 and should remain in an adult ICE detention center in Central California.

Immigration Judge Patrick O’Brien issued a handwritten order in court after the Department of Homeland Security and ICE provided him a document from the Afghan government that showed Hamid, a pseudonym, to be 22 or 23 years old. "The order of April 23, 2018 is hereby rescinded," the judge wrote, according to attorneys. "The court finds the evidence establishes that the respondent is an adult."

The government had also claimed the young man was at least 18 based on dental X-rays, which his attorneys said is based on faulty science.

However, the judge’s latest decision means that Hamid will for now remain in the Mesa Verde Detention Center in Bakersfield, California, where he is housed with adult men.

“We’re not surprised the government had those documents,” immigrant rights attorney Mohammad Abdollahi said. “His uncle created those documents for him to leave the country. It’s quite common in asylum cases.” 

Hamid’s attorney, Mariel Villarreal of Pangea Legal Services in San Francisco, had been arguing that Hamid is 16 or 17. There are no birth certificates given out in his Afghan village, so Hamid’s exact birth date can never be known. 

Hamid concedes he fled to the San Ysidro port of entry in November 2017 using a passport with an untrue date of birth. But that was only because his father and brother were killed by the Taliban last year and he wasn’t allowed to leave Afghanistan as a minor, Villarreal said.

Via email, Villarreal said the judge’s decision was “very frustrating” and that she planned to pursue another legal option to release Hamid into the care of a children’s shelter or a family friend while he waits for his political asylum hearings to play out. His next court hearing is in two weeks.