Turning 18 is a monumental occasion for any teenager. But thanks to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Erik Javier Flores Hernandez will remember his birthday Saturday as the day immigration agents hauled him away in shackles from a Los Angeles children’s shelter.
He is now at an adult detention facility awaiting the outcome of an immigration review, according to the Immigrant Defenders Law Center.
Flores came to the United States as an unaccompanied minor when he was 17, fleeing what the law center called “horrific violence,” including death threats from Mexican drug traffickers. His mother and grandmother both disappeared in Mexico due to cartel violence, and Flores suffered domestic violence as a child. He has an asylum case pending in the U.S. and no criminal record.
“Erik has family in the community who are willing to sponsor him. Erik has volunteers who have offered to help connect him with resources to help him heal. Erik is represented by an attorney with the Immigrant Defenders Law Center. Erik has no criminal history. Erik has been the victim of traumatic violence and fled his country to seek safety here in the US,” the law center stated in a Facebook post on Saturday.
Immigrant Defenders Law Center Executive Director Lindsay Toczylowski told Univision Noticias that before the administration of President Donald Trump, “we had never seen a detention like this of a minor turning 18, without a criminal record, and with a pending asylum case.”
Toczylowski said that in these types of cases in the past, authorities would seek alternatives to detention, including adult shelters or allowing teenagers to stay with family members. Flores has both family in Los Angeles and members of the religious community who are willing to provide him care and supervision, Toczylowski said.
ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice told Univision said that children’s shelters run by the Health Department for unaccompanied minors who come to the U.S. are not allowed to house teenagers after they turn 18. She confirmed that ICE arrested Flores on his birthday.
“ICE is reviewing the circumstances of Mr. Flores’ case to determine the appropriate next steps,” Kice told Univision in an email.
Flores’ next hearing on his asylum case had been scheduled for late May.