A disturbing video released by the Texas Civil Rights Project shows an ugly confrontation between private contractors for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and a lawyer trying to help asylum-seeking migrant children locked up in a McAllen, Texas, hotel.
The chilling scene at the Hampton Inn & Suites, which can be seen below, helped trigger a lawsuit late Friday by the Texas group and the American Civil Liberties Union to stop the deportation of the children being detained by the Trump administration in hotels. The suit is also demanding an opportunity for the children to talk to a lawyer.
“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,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt told CBS News. “Unfortunately, this is just the latest in a series of steps taken by the Trump administration to abuse and terrorize children.”
The suit was filed in U.S. district court in Washington, D.C., on behalf of an unknown number of children in U.S. custody who were at the hotel — but have since vanished. Immigration officials have refused to say how many children were being held at the hotel as of Thursday, provide their names, or reveal where they are now, according to the lawsuit.
The Hampton Inn hotel in McAllen is one of three where children as young as a year old have been held, according to records obtained by The Associated Press. The hotels — the others are in El Paso, Texas, and Phoenix — have been used nearly 200 times as more than 10,000 beds for children remain empty at official government detention centers, the AP reported Wednesday.
The migrant children are reportedly being grabbed at the border and held at the hotels for weeks with little to no apparent government supervision or access to legal representation, and deported.
On Thursday, contract guards blocked a lawyer for the Texas Civil Rights Project attempting to walk down a corridor to reach detainees in the McAllen hotel. The lawyer demanded: “Who are you? Are you police?”
They shoved him roughly against the wall and responded: “Don’t worry about who we are. Get out if you’re smart.” The lawyer shouted to those detained to yell out their names.
ICE told the AP that the private contractors are “transportation specialists” who are trained to work with children.
Federal anti-trafficking laws and a long-term court settlement that governs the treatment of migrant children require that most kids be sent to supervised government shelters for a limited time before placement with family sponsors. The Trump administration is using the COVID-19 pandemic to skirt those requirements. At least 2,000 unaccompanied children have been expelled since March.
“They’ve created a shadow system in which there’s no accountability for expelling very young children,” Leecia Welch, an attorney at the nonprofit National Center for Youth Law, told the AP.
Late Friday, Hilton confirmed in a statement that its Hampton Inn & Suites in McAllen had “accepted reservations from a private contractor working on behalf of U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement ... to house migrants, including minors.” It said the hotel was no longer providing rooms for any migrants in U.S. custody. The company is also instructing all franchises and management companies not to rent rooms to detain children.
“Our policy has always been that hotels should not be used as detention centers or for detaining individuals. We expect all Hilton properties to reject business that would use a hotel in this way,” the company said.