A teenager’s father is murdered in Somalia, and the boy travels to the United States seeking asylum. Another teen’s father and brother are murdered by extremist groups in Afghanistan and he too makes his way to the U.S. to seek asylum. Since both are minors, federal law decrees that they must be held separately from adults under the oversight of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
However, in these two cases, and an unknown number of others, these minors were taken in handcuffs by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and held in adult detention facilities. The reason? In the absence of other information that could corroborate the teens’ self-reported ages, analysis of their dental X-rays revealed that both could be adults.
Lawyers for these two teens sued on the grounds that sole reliance on X-rays for age determination is illegal, and several federal judges agreed.
As a forensic anthropologist, I support these judicial decisions. My work can include estimating the ages of deceased persons using X-rays of bones and teeth, and I’m intimately familiar with the limitations of how specific these techniques can be. In my field, we generate an age range alongside several caveats; it’s irresponsible for ICE to rely solely on X-rays to provide a definitive answer in determining if a person is a minor or an adult.