McALLEN — Activists milled about on the sidewalk here in front of the Hampton Inn & Suites on Thursday evening, trying to keep banners with telephone numbers painted on them from flapping in the wind and waving their hands up at the fourth and fifth floors.
Sometimes a face popped out from behind the curtains in the windows and a little hand waved back. One of them held a piece of paper or a notepad to the pane for a few moments.
The activists were trying to pass along a phone number to the people in those rooms, people who — according to a report from the Associated Press — are migrant children being detained by a private contractor for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“What we’re going to do is try to put up a phone number so these individuals can call us,” Roberto Lopez, a community outreach coordinator with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said Thursday. “We cannot legally intervene because they do not have a number, they have no information that we can receive to be able to file any type of temporary restraining order or seek any legal remedy. What we need is for these individuals here in the hotel to call us, so we’re going to put some numbers out here and wave and honk horns so they can see this number and hopefully give us a phone call.
“It’s a shame that this is what is needed in order for justice to happen.”
The Hampton Inn on Expressway 83 in McAllen looks like any other hotel, with the exception of several white vans in the parking lot, vans Lopez believes belong to a private contracting company and are used to move migrants.
Other than the vans, the only exceptional characteristic outside of the hotel Thursday was the small clump of activists and journalists sweating on the sidewalk.
Lopez says there’s more evidence of migrants staying in the hotel on the inside. He went in last Friday, where he says he saw a child inside the hotel he estimated was between the ages of 2 and 4, and heard at least one child crying. He briefly went in again Thursday but didn’t see any children.
“There’s children there who don’t know where their parents are, who don’t know why they’re there,” Lopez said. “We’ve heard stories of children here for weeks. It’s just eerie. Here in the Valley, the most mundane things — hotels, warehouses, interstates — the Department of Homeland Security has turned into black sites, areas where children are detained in cages.”
Other activists who went into the hotel Thursday had a more lively experience, including Andy Udelsman, an attorney for TCRP.
Udelsman said he went to the fourth floor of the hotel and was confronted by three large men who asked to see his and a fellow activist’s badges.
“We have no badges. We have a room at this motel,” Udelsman said. “And I began announcing that I’m a lawyer and that anybody who’s being detained here should tell me their name, so that we can help them. The man pushed me, shoved me, back into the elevator quite violently…”
According to Lopez, it’s important to reach the migrant children he believes are in those hotel rooms quickly. He says rumors indicate they might be moved very soon.
“We suspect that with a lot of the media coverage that has been happening around this particular hotel that the government would really like to have this over with and these kids disappeared from this site,” he said.
If that happens, Lopez says, he believes the individuals in those rooms will be expelled from the country or moved to a detention center.
“We suspect if they move that they will either immediately be expelled, that just means put on a plane and sent back to whichever country they came from alone, possibly in a city they don’t know, or the government may just put them in a Border Patrol detention center and hold them for well beyond the 72 hours that is limited for children to remain in detention centers,” he said.
A little after 7 p.m. Thursday, activists circled the parking lot in their cars, honking. The attempt to make contact was over about 15 minutes later.
Lopez wasn’t aware if anyone inside the hotel had made a call while the demonstration was going on or right after he finished, but he says he thought the event was a victory.
“It was a success, because we were able to raise up the issue again,” he said. “We were able to shed light on what’s happening here.”
If any of the people in those rooms do call, Lopez says there are legal steps he and the members of his organization can likely take.
“From there we can then go to a court and try to issue some sort of temporary restraining order and keep the government from expelling them, and keep them here in the states so that way they can be put through the correct process which for decades advocates have fought for is what the law demands,” he said.