Staff and wire reports
Published 8:02 p.m. MT July 24, 2020 | Updated 12:36 p.m. MT July 25, 2020


The Hampton Inn Phoenix-Airport North is pictured in Phoenix on July 24, 2020. (Photo: Sean Logan/The Republic)

Legal advocacy groups have sued the U.S. government to try to stop the expulsion of children believed to be detained in Arizona and Texas hotel rooms by the Trump administration under an emergency declaration citing the novel coronavirus.

The owners of the Hampton Inn & Suites in McAllen, Texas, said on Friday night that they had ended any reservations on rooms used to detain minors.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed that all children had been taken away from the McAllen hotel, two days after the Associated Press reported that it and two Hampton Inn hotels in Phoenix and El Paso were used nearly 200 times for the detention of children as young as 1. 

Managers of a Hampton Inn in Phoenix told The Arizona Republic the hotel could not comment, citing guest privacy.

ICE repeatedly refused to answer questions about where contractors have taken the children, citing a potential security risk.

“The Trump administration is holding children in secret in hotels, refusing to give lawyers access to them so it can expel them back to danger without even a chance for the children to show they warrant asylum,” said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed suit on behalf of the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Gelernt said suing on behalf of unnamed children was necessary “because the government is refusing to provide any information about the children.” The lawsuit was filed in Washington federal court, and Gelernt said he would seek to include any minors detained at the hotel as of Thursday.

‘They’ve created a shadow system’: US holding young migrant kids in Arizona hotels before deporting them

Government data obtained by AP shows children were detained 123 times at the McAllen hotel in April and June. Castle Hospitality, which operates the McAllen location, refused to say how many rooms had been booked for use by ICE or its private contractor, MVM, Inc.

Legal advocates in Arizona say they have been in the dark about the hotel detentions of unaccompanied minors.

“This is news to us, and not welcome news,” Laura Belous, an attorney with the Florence Immigration and Refugee Rights Project, told The Republic on Thursday.

“It’s unclear to us why these children aren’t getting shelter services,” Belous said. The Florence Project provides free legal services to people facing deportation.

State officials also appeared to be unaware. Asked about the children during his coronavirus news conference on Thursday, Gov. Doug Ducey said, “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”

Under federal anti-trafficking law and a court settlement, most children who cross the U.S.-Mexico border are supposed to go to facilities operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and eventually placed with family sponsors.

But the Trump administration says it must expel children to prevent the spread of COVID-19, citing an emergency declaration in March by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 2,000 children have since been expelled without getting the chance to seek refuge in the U.S.

A federal monitor assigned to oversee provisions of the court settlement recently documented 32 immigrant children in the Hampton Inns in Texas. The report made no mention of children being housed in Phoenix. 

The monitor recommended that unaccompanied minors should be excluded from the temporary housing program.

“The temporary housing program was not constructed to serve as a major detention system to care for large numbers of young children for protracted periods of time,” monitor Andrea Ordin wrote.

Because the housing is intended to be temporary, no education or therapy services are provided. Those are services the children would receive if they were in shelters. The children are supposed to get three meals a day, plus snacks. There is little to no outdoor recreation, although children can play in enclosed pool areas for limited periods, the report states.

Visits aren’t allowed, but the children are allowed phone and video chat opportunities and visits with legal counsel, on request.

Her report documented young children were staying at the hotel at least four to five days, with one child housed there for 11 days. The risk of children contracting COVID-19 is only one reason children should not be put in the program, she wrote.

“For example, isolating a child alone in a hotel room for 10-14 days can have a more harmful emotional impact than that seen in adults,” Ordin stated.

To Belous, the recommendation makes sense. Her staff needs access to the children, but the current system is so opaque they don’t even know if children are housed in Phoenix.

“We can’t do services because we don’t know where they are,” she said.

Republic reporter Mary Jo Pitzl and the Associated Press contributed to this article. 

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