A judge ordered a 15-year-old unaccompanied migrant to return to Mexico after he was held in a U.S. Border Patrol facility for eight days – something a local attorney called unlawful.
According to a complaint, the teen entered the country illegally near Tecate, Mexico, on April 24. He reportedly crossed the border in a car with two others and was going to pay $8,500 to a smuggler but was caught at a Border Patrol checkpoint in Jamul.
Officials said the smuggler was arrested and the teen was detained as a witness for a criminal case. The 15-year-old was then taken to a Border Patrol facility, where court documents said he did not leave until his court hearing eight days later.
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On May 2, attorney Stacey Kartchner told a judge she was denied access to the boy for eight days – which she said violated the teen’s Sixth Amendment right. Kartchner said she repeatedly contacted the Office of Refugee Resettlement but was told it didn’t have the minor in its system until May 1 – a week after he was apprehended.
She filed a court order for the 15-year-old’s detention, citing it violated the Flores Settlement Agreement in which unaccompanied minors must be put into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement within three days.
“The worst thing is having been detained for so long in inhumane conditions. Those detention cells are not meant for long-term custody, so this child should have been transferred immediately,” said Benjamin Prado with the American Friends Service Committee –- a social justice organization.
Kartchner asked the judge to transfer the teen to Southwest Key, a migrant youth shelter, which he was on May 3.
The attorney said the teen was not allowed to shower and had no access to a toothbrush or toothpaste during this time.
“We're looking at a laundry list of injustices,” Prado said.
She claimed the 15-year-old was not given enough food and when he asked for more food, agents would allegedly threaten him. He was also wearing the same clothes as when he was detained.
On Thursday, a judge dismissed the teen from the criminal case he was said to be a witness to and ordered him to return to Mexico.
“It's a poor response. It's a complete disregard for protocols already set in places, especially for children,” Prado said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection told NBC 7 it tries to release minors into the custody of the Department of Homeland Security “as soon as practical” but said due the current situation at the border, it may take longer.