The Innocence Project joined a diverse group group of immigrants’ rights organizations, criminal justice reform advocates, and others to demand that the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio immediately cease and desist from their practice of forced dental radiography and attendant “age estimation” imposed on children, many of whom are seeking asylum. These procedures are typically requested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to wrongly and erroneously reclassify children as adults, which often leads to children being placed in detention with adults and possibly deported. The procedures are not initiated or intended for any diagnostic, treatment, or other health-related purpose (or other benefit) for the children.
Many of these children have documentary evidence that makes them readily identifiable as legal minors under the age of 18, in the form of a passport, valid birth certificates, or baptismal certificates, in addition to representations by their family members and themselves as to their ages. Despite such proof, immigration officials often dispute a child’s age and seek procedures to reclassify the child as an adult, which leads to the loss of heightened legal protections the law gives to children. Indeed, the Innocence Project has collaborated with immigrants’ rights’ organizations in 16 individual cases in which an asylum-seeking individual was deemed to be an adult. In 15 of these cases, our clients were, in fact, children who were wrongfully jailed in adult detention centers.
These “age estimation” practices not only have been found scientifically untenable by judicial tribunals in the U.S. and in Europe, but also grossly violate children’s common law and constitutional rights, and the basic right to bodily integrity. Dental age estimation procedures, depending on the circumstances in which they are authorized or performed on these children, also contravene medical and dental ethical obligations. In short, there is no justification for using these questionable techniques on young asylum seekers, the majority of whom come from developing countries and are particularly vulnerable.