ICE Jails Illegals on Their Birthdays. Media Horrified.


So imagine you’ve come to this country illegally and been detained. You’re a minor. You can’t be detained because you’re a minor. On your 18th birthday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement comes so that they can detain you.

To me, that sounds pretty reasonable. I imagine a fair number of you feel the same way too.

Well, let the media tell you something: Where’s your heart, you slimy, filthy, Trump-loving racist?! If you call yourself a Christian you make me sick! Hope you enjoy that circle of hell where Brutus, Judas and Cassius are having their heads chomped on by Satan! #NastyWoman!

In fairness, I’m being a bit hyperbolic, because I think using the #NastyWoman hashtag may have been just too much of a lapse in objectivity for our fourth estate. The rest is reasonably accurate, though. See, ICE is basically detaining unaccompanied minors who illegally cross into the United States on their 18th birthday, when they become adults. And as you can imagine, we’re all losing our collective minds over this. And by we, what I mean is a select coterie of journalists who really want attention.

Let’s start with the original pearl-clutching extravaganza from the Miami New Times, which not only brought the issue to national attention but also may be the most empurpled piece of prose involving the “issue” thus far.

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“When one of his abusive mother’s gangbanger friends held a gun to his chest and threatened to pull the trigger, Nolbiz Orellana knew he’d die in Honduras. So this past January, the then-17-year-old made the harrowing journey to the U.S.-Mexico border, crossed over, and asked for asylum,” Tim Elfrink began his Thursday piece.

“Instead of releasing him to his relatives in Nebraska, though, the feds sent him to the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children. Orellana spent three months in the remote South Miami-Dade facility until April 8 — his birthday.

“That’s when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents showed up at the children’s shelter, slapped handcuffs on Orellana’s wrists, chained them to his waist, and shackled his legs together. The agents drove Orellana to the Broward Transitional Center, an infamous immigration jail in Pompano Beach, where he was thrown into a cell with men twice his age.”

Now, before we start talking about this whole birthday outrage, here’s a fun little exercise: Read those three paragraphs and see where you can find “allegedly,” “Orellana said…” or “… he claims.” Every single bit of this story — which is completely unverified and unverifiable, mind you — is presented by Elfrink as if it were the God’s honest truth.

Do you think these teens should have been detained?

In fact, nearly every story in this piece — and there are quite a few — is presented without the word “supposedly,” “according to” or “reportedly” attached to them except to mention it’s what’s put forth in their legal complaint. And most of that is put forth as if no facts had possibly contradicted them.

Thus, we’re not presented with why Orellana might have been taken into custody, why his asylum claim was denied or why the Broward Transitional Center is an “infamous immigration jail.” (Note that in pretty much every detention situation, adults may be “thrown into a cell with men twice his age.” I don’t see Elfnik writing many other stories about other jails that do this, mostly because no one is interested.)

Oh, and by the way, it’s not like ICE was given the chance (or even could be given the chance) to correct this. Their statement was appended to the end of the story, after every single allegation Elfrink presented to the reader as unvarnished fact: “ICE is unable to comment on pending legal matters. ICE makes arrest and custody determinations on an individual basis based on the totality of the circumstances and does so in compliance with federal law and agency policy.”

But before you heard that, there was plenty of outrage to be vented: “‘When they turn 18, it’s basically, ‘Happy birthday,’ and then they slap on handcuffs and take them off to adult detention centers,’ says Lisa Lehner, an attorney with the nonprofit Americans for Immigrant Justice who is representing Orellana.

“Since April, at least 14 children at the Homestead center have been handcuffed on their 18th birthdays and taken to a jail cell in Broward, Lehner says … In some federal shelters, ICE agents show up at 11:30 p.m. the night before a young immigrant’s birthday, says Janet Gwilym, the Seattle-based managing attorney of Kids in Need of Defense. When the clock strikes midnight, the agents handcuff and take the now-18-year-old kid away.”

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The outrage is based on something called the Flores Agreement, whereby “the government agreed to begin releasing juveniles as quickly as possible, preferably to family — but always into the ‘least restrictive’ setting available.”

The problem is that Elfrink is completely unable to demonstrate this was the least restrictive setting available given the circumstances, or even what the circumstances really were. Did any of these minors commit crimes? Had their claims of “credible fear” already been debunked? Did they have histories of violence? Were they flight risks? Were there other exigencies involved?

One would assume there were and one would assume that information would either be available or that its unavailability would be very prominently mentioned, but — to quote the great New York newsman Gabe Pressman — “Why spoil a good story with the facts?”

Pressman, I think, was being facetious. Elfrink, however, doesn’t strike me as a man given to humor. Or facts.

Keep in mind that if there weren’t any good reasons for ICE to take interest in these individuals and Elfrink were able to verify it — or were at least able to get them to solemnly attest there were none, since apparently the words of illegal immigrants who recently turned 18 are wholly unimpeachable — it would have been mentioned and trumpeted repeatedly throughout the piece. Instead, the fact that these were potentially dangerous individuals was never mentioned once, nor was it even investigated. Do they somehow get a pass because it’s their birthday? Is that how this works?

Now, this is clearly ghastly journalism that nobody ought to take seriously. Thankfully, Elfrink’s piece of unexamined, misleading agitprop was quietly forgotten and nobody picked this piece of journalistic malpractice, especially since it was a busy week and we’re all still rightly talking about the ramifications of Michael Coh–

Oh for the love of — can’t we just go back to taking Omarosa seriously again or something?

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture