When 70 people marched on Tuesday, it was no longer a rally to free “GE,” the 14-year-old refugee who walked across half a continent to escape violence. It was about celebrating his freedom – but with the warning that he was not the only one.
In a statement from Indivisible Yolo, “But we must remember that G.E. is not the only one. Two doors down from G.E.’s detention center there was a brand new high school, and he wondered if the students knew that kids a lot like them were locked up indefinitely so close by. According to recent court filings, there are several more. We want them to know that we aren’t going anywhere until each one of these kids gets fair treatment, and none remain forgotten and invisible.”
On Monday afternoon, Yolo County announced it had requested permission from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to take custody of the child, and that request was granted. The county announced, “Acting quickly and consistent with the value of ‘doing right by others,’ the county has taken steps to place the child with a facility that can provide suitable care, housing and other services.”
They added, “Yolo County will continue to oversee his placement and ensure that he receives appropriate care and services for the foreseeable future.”
But this is not just about GE, and so on March 16 (Thursday) Senate Majority Whip Nancy Skinner, along with seven of her Senate colleagues, wrote a letter to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors requesting assistance “in examining the circumstances and procedures involving the detention of the fourteen-year-old Honduran boy, known as G.E., at the Yolo County Juvenile Detention Facility, who was detained despite being granted asylum on January 10th of this year.”
They are also seeking “information on other unaccompanied children in your custody.”
The Senators write, “We are deeply disturbed by the San Francisco Chronicle’s account of what occurred to the Honduran boy, particularly that ‘[d]uring his 11 months in jail, much of it [was] spent alone in his cell [where] he .. . repeatedly tried to harm himself and has lashed out at times, causing staff in the facility to douse him with pepper spray or bind his wrists and ankles.'”
They continue, “We understand from recent press reports that your facility secured external placement for G.E. on Monday. However, we want to ensure that other unaccompanied children in similar circumstances receive fair and humane treatment.”
According to information obtained by the Senate, “the Yolo County Juvenile Detention Facility provides housing and services for up to twenty-four unaccompanied children – supported by $2.9 million dollar annual grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).”
They have the following questions:
- How many unaccompanied children are being housed in the Yolo County Juvenile Detention Facility, and how long has each been held to date?
- Do any of the unaccompanied children being held have criminal backgrounds, here or in country of origin? And if so, how was the determination of a criminal background made?
- How is it that a fourteen-year-old was granted asylum, but continued to be detained in the Yolo county detention facility? How will Yolo County ensure that this does not happen again in the future?
- Please outline the steps that Yolo County took to assist ORR with finding a placement for the 14-year-old Honduran boy.
- There have been reports that Yolo County Health and Human Services will not accept responsibility for these unaccompanied children and hesitates to place them in Yolo County. Is this statement accurate?
- Please provide the following information:
- A summary of the medical, mental and dental health care provided to these children, including staff ratios and whether the providers are bi-lingual.
- A copy of Yolo County Juvenile Detention Facility’s policy on use-of-force, including all policy related to the use of pepper spray and restraints.
- A copy of Yolo County Juvenile Detention Facility’s policy on recreation and out-of-cell time.
- A list of all programs, including education, offered to the unaccompanied children.
- Senate staff was not allowed to speak with the unaccompanied children while conducting a recent oversight visit of the juvenile detention facility. Please provide a complete copy of the visitation policies for the unaccompanied children.
They conclude, “The Senate is concerned about not only the detention of unaccompanied children, but also the conditions in which the children are being held. The information sought will help to inform the Senate on what steps need to be taken to ensure the humane treatment of all unaccompanied children in Yolo County.”
They have requested a response by April 3.
—David M. Greenwald reporting