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Jose Antonio Hernandez Vasquez, 19, is seen in an undated photo on a GoFundMe page created to support him after his release from detention.
by: Sareen Habeshian
Posted:Apr 3, 2020 / 11:39 PM PDT/Updated:Apr 4, 2020 / 08:48 AM PDT
Jose Antonio Hernandez Vasquez, 19, was released Thursday from Adelanto Detention Facility in San Bernardino County due to the risk the novel coronavirus poses to his fragile health — after 888 days of what activists and lawyers say was illegal incarceration of a minor.
He was let out after California announced this week that it would release inmates who were due to be paroled in the next two months as the state tries to free space in cramped prisons in anticipation of a coronavirus outbreak.
Vasquez was one of six immigrant detainees with underlying health issues at this particular ICE processing center to be released after a federal judge’s order, according to the Orange County Register. The order was in response to a lawsuit filed Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California against officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Adelanto facility, the newspaper reported.
ICE has said that it’s working with federal, state and local agencies to help stop the spread of COVID-19, including suspending social visits in all detention facilities.
“Consistent with federal partners, ICE is taking important steps to further safeguard those in our care,” the agency’s website reads.
Vasquez spent 888 days — nearly 13% of his life — in immigration custody, and during that time, he developed hypertension and severe depression, according to the Justice Action Center.
Nearly three years ago, when Vasquez was 16, he refused to join a local gang in his hometown of Guatemala, and so he was shot in the stomach and left to die in the street, according to the center, a nonprofit dedicated to “fighting for greater justice for immigrant communities by combining litigation and storytelling.”
Once Vasquez was physically able to move again, he fled his home and spent the next year on a lone journey, hoping to find refuge in the U.S. But when he arrived, ICE detained him for 10 months in an adult maximum security facility even though he was still a minor.
His lawyers say the mistake was made because the government relied on a controversial dental exam used to determine the age of migrants, including Vasquez.
For some time, Vasquez had to represent himself in court proceedings, according to the center, and so an immigration judge ordered him to be deported because he couldn’t complete his asylum application in English.
Once it was discovered that he was, indeed, a minor, Vasquez was placed in a juvenile detention center operated by ICE, but only for a month. On the morning of his 18th birthday, he was taken back to an adult facility, according to the nonprofit.
After multiple lawsuits, hearings, court appearances and appeals, Vasquez was released Thursday because of the risk of him developing the novel coronavirus.
“The judge said Jose’s confinement was unconstitutional, and we could not agree more. Now he’s free, and awaiting his asylum hearing at the 9th circuit,” the center said in a series of tweets.
When his lawyer picked him up from the facility Thursday, he apparently told her, “I have been waiting for this for so long. I don’t even have words to say because I am so happy!”
He will spend the next two weeks in quarantine before being reunited with a sponsor, according to a GoFundMe page created to support Vasquez with basic necessities.