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Detained Migrant Teen Finds His Own Loophole

15-year-old from Honduras walks away from Texas facility, and authorities can't stop him
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 25, 2018 8:00 AM CDT
Detained Migrant Teen Finds His Own Loophole
Dignitaries take a tour of Casa Padre, a U.S. immigration facility in Brownsville, Texas, Monday, June 18, 2018, where children are detained. It is a converted Walmart.   (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

(Newser) – A teenager from Honduras being held in a high-profile immigration detention center in Texas may have just exposed a vulnerability in the system: The 15-year-old simply walked off the premises, and authorities there were powerless to stop him, reports the New York Times. The teen left the Case Padre migrant children's center in Brownsville, Texas, on Saturday afternoon, and multiple accounts say he crossed back over the border to Mexico and is on his way home to Honduras. Details on the incident, and some questions it raises:

  • Can't stop him: The nonprofit group that runs the facility explains why the teen could walk away: "As a licensed child care center, if a child attempts to leave any of our facilities, we cannot restrain them," says Southwest Key Programs, which operates about two dozen such facilities in Texas, California, and Arizona, reports CNN. "We are not a detention center. We talk to them and try to get them to stay. If they leave the property, we call law enforcement."

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  • Back in Mexico: Police in Brownsville did indeed receive a report about the missing teen on Saturday, but a search turned up nothing. Both CNN and NBC News cite sources saying the youth returned to Mexico.
  • His background: The teen was not among the group of young immigrants who have been separated from their parents—he reportedly was detained alone at the Mexico border more than a month ago, saying he was trying to reach his father in Dallas. However, a DNA report cast doubt on the family ties, and authorities were trying to figure out the next steps when the youth left, reports NBC. The man the teen identified as his father has reportedly been in contact with the youth by phone and was sending him money to get back to Honduras.
  • A key question: The incident raises several questions about the welfare of migrant children detained in the US, notes the Times, including a big one: Can minors who know this rule leave detention centers of their own accord and "sidestep the lengthy process of being approved for release to a parent or sponsor"?
  • Not the first: The incident is rare but not unprecedented: Southwest has had more than 19,000 children under its charge this year, and 42 have run away, according to NBC. CNN has similar numbers.
  • The process: Under US law, underage migrants who are detained while traveling alone must be sent to a Department of Homeland Security facility (Casa Padre is one) within three days, reports Fox News. DHS is responsible for keeping them in a shelter or placing them in a home until they are reunited with a relative or sponsor, or until the case otherwise plays out in immigration court.
(Read more immigration stories.)

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