Teen Migrants Are Being Detained With Adults Thanks to Faulty Dental Exams

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty

Several teen migrants have sued the U.S. for incorrectly placing them in adult detention thanks to inaccurate forensic dental exams, according to the Los Angeles Times. Federal law says that the government should not rely solely on the controversial forensic exams to determine age, but in several cases court documents show they did so, and children ended up being detained alongside adults.

Some of the children who were misclassified as adults were separated from their families in adult detention. I.J., a Bangladeshi immigrant who sued the government, was one of them.

From the Times:

An immigration official reported that it was apparent to the case manager that I.J. “appeared physically older than 17 years of age,” and that he and his mother had not been able to provide a second type of identification that might prove his age. [...]

He spent about five months in adult detention and 24 of those days in segregated custody. Whenever he spoke with an officer, he would say he was a minor — unaware for more than a month that his teeth had landed him there.

After a federal judge determined that I.J. was actually a minor, he was released to the Office of Refugee Resettlement and reunited with his family in New York.

“I came to the United States with a big dream,” I.J. told the Times. “My dream was finished.”

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Experts say that dental forensics can be unreliable at best.

“We should never be used as the only method to determine age,” Dr. David Senn, a director at UT Health San Antonio who does forensic work to determine age, told the paper. “If those agencies are not following their own rules, they should have their feet held to the fire.”

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Using dental forensics to determine the age of refugees and migrants has been an issue in other countries, including in the UK.

“If you test children around the age of 18, or three years either side, in this way, the results get one third of the ages wrong,” Tim Cole, a professor of medical statistics at the Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, told the BBC when asked in 2016 about the accuracy of dental exams.

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“The use of radiological assessment is extremely imprecise and can only give an estimate of within two years in either direction and the use of ionising radiation for this purpose is inappropriate. If not done for medical purposes it can be potentially dangerous for a child to undergo these X-rays,” the The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health told the Independent the same year.

In recent years, the U.S. has changed laws regarding the use of forensics to determine age. In 2008, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act put a new standard into place, saying that forensic dental exams shouldn’t be the only evidence used to determine age. Yet, since then, there have still been disastrous consequences for minors misclassified as adults.

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There’s no knowing how many such cases have been ignored thanks to lack of representation for the detained minors. ICE spokesperson Danielle Bennett told the Times that they “do not track” cases of minors classified as adults.

Read the rest of the story at the Los Angeles Times.

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