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Immigration Law

ORR Social Worker at Jail for Refugee Kids: "I Wanted No Part of It Any Longer"

"It was the summer of 2014 when I finally realized what I was being asked to do: incarcerate children.  I was 22, new to social work, and working in Seattle at a 20-bed facility that houses 12- to 17-year-old immigrant youths.  It’s funded by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. ... I thought, foolishly, that I could help them.  I was wrong. ... Guzman didn’t have his birth certificate.  But using a medical bone density exam, the shelter determined that he was 18.  Government officials would come get him, depositing him at a detention center for adults.  The shelter door buzzed within the hour.  My supervisor pulled Guzman away from his lunch and readied him for transport.  “It’s okay. I can walk him downstairs,” I said while I snuck an apple into his hand.  “Make sure he doesn’t run,” she said.  “Say adios to your brother, Agustin,” I said hesitantly.  He rushed and hugged his brother tightly.  I walked Guzman downstairs, where a government agent awaited with chains.  “They can’t hurt you,” I told him, desperately.  “It will be over soon.  Don’t resist them. I’m very sorry.”  I brought him to the agent, and translated his comments for Guzman.  “Turn around. Hands against your stomach.”  His thin ankles were locked close together.  His shaking hands and his heavy breath were limited to the circumference of the locked chain around his waist.  I gave him $20.  And he was whisked away.  The chain hissed and rattled beneath his waddling feet as he was hurried into an unmarked vehicle, destined to return to la hielera.  This is how we sustained the influx of refugee children into the country.  I wanted no part of it any longer.  In two months’ time I resigned from my job." - Noe Alvarez, Nov. 6, 2014.