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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.

‘Secret’ WA youth detention facility at center of records dispute

The U.S. Department of Justice has intervened in a case regarding undocumented youth detained in Washington state.

The case focuses on immigrant youth held at the Cowlitz County Youth Services Center and whether the feds are obligated to release information about their detention. Information could include how many youth are being held there, the length of their detention, and ultimately why they are being held there.

Researchers at the University of Washington Center for Human Rights are pushing to learn more through public records requests. Cowlitz County originally intended to share the records with the researchers. But the feds intervened through a lawsuit and moved the case from Cowlitz County Superior Court to a federal court.

Undocumented youth are typically held at shelters contracted by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement if they entered the country alone. ICE says the youth at the Cowlitz center have serious criminal histories and are considered accompanied youth as they have family in the country.

Angelina Godoy, director of the University of Washington Center for Human Rights has been at the head of this records dispute. Shortly before the new year, she received notice about the case being moved.

For Godoy, it's really about transparency.

"ICE refuses to give even the most basic information about the legal justification as to why those kids are being held," Godoy said. "We want to contest that idea, that our government can hold people in a secret facility."

ICE confirmed they have two other facilities besides the Cowlitz location and that there are currently eight youth being held. ICE did not specify where.