The Trump administration is continuing to crack down on young migrants amid the ongoing pandemic. Earlier this month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced plans to expel international college students from the country if their schools choose to go all-remote in the fall. Now, the Associated Press is reporting that dozens of migrant children have been moved from detention centers due to COVID-19 and into unlisted locations, unsupervised by parents or child care professionals, before ultimately being deported.
The Associated Press reports that while federal anti-trafficking laws require migrant children be placed in shelters pending placement with family members, the Trump administration has been bypassing them with public health declarations related to COVID-19. Instead, the new practices immediately expel all asylum seekers from the country.
With the shelters shut down and over 10,000 beds reserved for migrant children sitting empty, ICE contractors in Arizona and Texas have reportedly been placing migrant children in hotels. The children reportedly remain in detention for several days at the hotels, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.
The children are supervised during detention by employees of MVM Inc., the private security firm ICE employs for “transportation services.” However, MVM reportedly does not require employees to have experience with child care. According to the company’s website, it employs “bilingual travel youth care workers” to provide “humble care and service to unaccompanied children and teens.” Job postings do mention that applicants are given government background checks.
According to ICE, the agency uses the company’s services “to transport single minors to hotels and to ensure each minor remains safe and secure while in this temporary housing.”
How Safe Are They?
The report states that children as young as 1 year old have been detained at hotels in the regions, with detention times ranging from three days to two weeks or longer. In McAllen, Texas, a 5-year-old was reportedly held for 19 days at a Hampton Inn.
In one case, the report states, ICE held a 13-year-old migrant girl at a hotel without the knowledge of her mother, who lives in the US. The agency ultimately expelled the girl to El Salvador rather than release her to her mother.
Karla Vargas, the Texas Civil Rights Project lawyer who represented the girl, said that her story was far from unusual.
“The children with whom we’ve spoken say there are other children in the hotels,” Vargas told Associated Press. “We know that there are masses of children.”
Critics are taking ICE to task for evading accountability with the hotel detainment sites, which Forbes notes are not listed on the agency’s website.
“They’ve created a shadow system in which there’s no accountability for expelling very young children,” said Leecia Welch, an attorney for the National Center for Youth Law. “There really aren’t enough words to describe what a disgraceful example of sacrificing children this is to advance heartless immigration policies.”
The Hilton company, who owns the Hampton Inn brand, has responded to the news by clarifying that the three Hampton locations involved are franchises and that rooms were booked directly with the owners.
“We understand these properties have been used for their intended purpose — temporary accommodation for guests traveling between locations,” a statement from the company read.
Meanwhile the company who operates the McAllen location, Castle Hospitality, said it had no knowledge that the booked rooms were for housing migrant children until they arrived.
“We are not making any political statements one way or the other by taking in this group and we feel that anyone, especially children in such difficult circumstances, is entitled to safe and clean accommodations and that’s what we aim to provide,” the company said in a statement. “In our conversation with the group contact, we have been assured that all state and federal regulations are being followed.”
MVM Inc. has declined to answer questions on the matter. Meanwhile, ICE largely declined requests for comment, according to Associated Press, but referred to its contractors as “transportation specialists” who are “non-law-enforcement staff members trained to work with minors and to ensure that all aspects of the transport or stay are compliant” with court-mandated requirements.