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caption: A youth jail in Cowlitz County is holding a small number of undocumented youth. ICE says the youth have 'serious criminal histories' but have kept researchers from accessing jail records.
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A youth jail in Cowlitz County is holding a small number of undocumented youth. ICE says the youth have 'serious criminal histories' but have kept researchers from accessing jail records.

An immigrant youth is released from the Cowlitz youth detention center

A young, undocumented immigrant who goes by "Arthur" who had been in legal limbo for the last nine months has gotten a reprieve.

He was released early Tuesday from the Cowlitz County Youth Services Center -- on his 18th birthday.

Activists say it’s a small win.

Arthur's attorney feared he would be transferred to an adult facility, like the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, when he turned 18.

An order from a federal judge blocked that, unless U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could prove he was dangerous to the community and a flight risk.

“It was very uncertain what was going to happen," says his attorney Samantha Ratcliff, with the Metropolitan Public Defender in Portland.

"And now he has a lot of things to look forward to that he can do that he couldn't do when he was detained so that’s great.”

Arthur is staying with a sponsor family in Washington as the rest of his immigration case plays out. He arrived in the U.S. as an unaccompanied minor at 14, traveling from Central America and is currently in removal proceedings.

Cowlitz is one of three youth detention centers in the country that holds "high-risk" undocumented, immigrant youth. ICE says the youth have "serious criminal histories."

But Ratcliff explains that at least Arthur was never charged with anything. He also added that there’s two more undocumented youth who are still at Cowlitz. One young woman was released back in April and is now back with family.

Earlier this year, during the first couple months of the pandemic, the Cowlitz authorities released most of their U.S. citizen youth to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The Cowlitz center is controversial and immigration activists have labeled it a "black-box" because of the level at which ICE withholds information on the site and its youth detainees.

Researchers at the University of Washington Center for Human Rights are currently in the middle of a lawsuit with immigration officials to get access to public records to learn more about the site.