At a time when it is under scrutiny for how it handles minors from other countries, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) announced last month that a 17-year old Guinean boy whom it held as an adult for more than a year was a minor.
The case highlights the difficulty that the agency sometimes has in determining the ages of young illegal immigrants, a problem that in this case led the INS to detain a minor in violation of its own policies.
Malik Jarno was apprehended by federal agents when he arrived at Dulles International Airport in Virginia on Jan. 28, 2001. Jarno had a French passport and claimed to be a 27-year-old French citizen, according to the INS. Immigration officials determined the passport was a fake and detained him. In a sworn statement at the time, Jarno said he was 24.
“This individual arrived claiming he was an adult. He and his attorney later said he was a juvenile,” said Karen Krashaar, a spokeswoman for the INS.
Following standard procedure, the INS tried to determine Jarno’s age by examining X-rays of his wrist bones and teeth. “Two independent medical tests conducted by medical professionals establish that Jarno is an adult,” the INS said in March.
Jarno and his attorney presented the INS with a birth certificate stating his date of birth as Jan. 7, 1985, making him 16 when he was detained. The INS said the document did not match other examples of birth certificates from Guinea and sought further information from that nation’s government. Jarno was placed in isolation in the adult facility to keep him separated from adults. After a week, Jarno was moved out of isolation at his lawyer’s request.
Last month, with confirmation from the Guinea government that the birth certificate was genuine, the INS reversed its earlier determination and placed Jarno in a juvenile facility in Pennsylvania. He is now 17.
The INS also refuted the allegation that Jarno was mentally retarded. “An evaluation by the mental health professional of the facility where Jarno [was] being held found that Jarno is immature and has little formal education, but is not mentally retarded,” the agency said in March.
Amnesty International seized on the Jarno case as an example of how unaccompanied minors can be mishandled in the INS system. The agency and Congress are reviewing federal policy governing how such youth should be handled (Youth Today, April 2002).
The INS detained 4,136 unaccompanied illegal juveniles for more than 72 hours in fiscal 2000, including 1,569 nondelinquents in secure detention facilities, according to the Department of Justice. INS policy is to place minors in the least restrictive environment available, pending the outcome of their immigration hearings.
Contact: INS at (202) 514-1900