'This is child abuse': ICE held migrant kids as young as age 1 at hotels before deportation

'This is child abuse': ICE held migrant kids as young as age 1 at hotels before deportation
Charles Edward Miller https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

The Trump administration has used a private contractor with an already sketchy history to detain migrant children who came to the U.S. by themselves at several locations of a popular hotel chain before quickly deporting them under an inhumane Stephen Miller-led policy that’s currently being challenged in court, the Associated Press reports.


Roberto Lopez of the Texas Civil Rights Project told the AP that he saw several unmarked vans parked outside the Texas location of the Hampton Inn & Suites chain, with adults and children inside. “He walked through the hotel Friday, spotting a small child holding on to a gate in a doorway as an adult on the other side played with him,” the report said. “Lopez said he could hear the cries of at least one child in the hallway.”

Normally, children who come to the U.S. alone are sent to Health and Human Services (HHS) custody until they can be placed with a sponsor, usually a relative already here. But in using the novel coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to quickly deport these kids in violation of their rights, the administration appears to be bypassing this, reportedly using private contractor MVM Inc. to detain kids as young as 1 at several of Hampton Inn & Suites’ Arizona and Texas locations.

“Federal anti-trafficking laws and a two-decade-old court settlement that governs the treatment of migrant children require that most kids be sent to the shelters for eventual placement with family sponsors,” the AP report said. “Lawyers and advocates say housing unaccompanied migrant children in hotels exposes them to the risk of trauma as they’re detained in places not designed to hold them and cared for by contractors with unclear credentials.”

The report said that “[a]t least two 1-year-olds were held for three days. But some young children, including 3- to 5-year-olds, were detained for two weeks or longer. One 5-year-old was detained for 19 days in the McAllen hotel.” It’s unclear how some of the babies and other very young children arrived here, but there have been numerous reports that desperate parents forced to wait out their asylum cases in Mexico under another cruel administration policy have sent their kids alone back into the U.S..

The AP reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) wouldn’t comment if the contractors are “licensed child care professionals or have received FBI background checks,” which would only require a simple “yes” if they were. And, if reported contractor MVM Inc. sounds familiar to you, that’s because another blockbuster investigation from 2018 found the company had also held migrant children in an office building for days at a time. Without access to showers, kids had to clean themselves at the sink. At night, they slept on mats on the floor.

“MVM had a contract with ICE for ‘transportation services’ extended for $49 million on March 31, according to federal contracting data,” the AP reported. “The company declined to answer questions.” Meanwhile, Hampton Inn owner Hilton told the AP the hotels that were used to jail the kids “were franchises and it believed rooms were booked directly with those owners. Hilton wouldn’t say how many rooms had been used to detain children or how much the rooms cost.” Nor would this be the first time a hospitality chain has despicably played a role in deportation efforts.

Last month, CBS News reported that just 39 children of the 1,001 children who arrived to the southern border alone in May were allowed to remain in the U.S. to pursue their asylum claims. The rest were quickly kicked out under the Miller policy and sent back to whatever unimaginable danger they fled from in the first place. We do know that one child that the Trump administration wanted to deport fled here after witnessing a gang murder in Honduras. U.S. officials tried to send him back, but a Trump-appointed judge blocked that deportation as litigation around the policy continues.

But, other children are still getting sent back—and during that cruel and unjust process are being mistreated. “This is child abuse,” tweeted Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. National Center for Youth Law attorney Leecia Welch tells the AP: “They’ve created a shadow system in which there’s no accountability for expelling very young children. There really aren’t enough words to describe what a disgraceful example of sacrificing children this is to advance heartless immigration policies.”

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