Monitor: Unaccompanied children should not be placed in hotels

Report gives insight on ICE contractors’ structure at hotels

Protestors wave signs in front of the Hampton Inn hotel on Thursday, July 23, 2020, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

A day before attorneys attempted to contact migrant children held by the government at a McAllen hotel, an independent monitor recommended against using such facilities.

Last week, two members of Texas Civil Rights Project attempted to make contact with unaccompanied migrant children housed by ICE contractors in a local Hampton Inn & Suites in McAllen, a hotel owned by Hilton Hotels.

The action came after the Associated Press reported that ICE had used hotels more than 200 times in McAllen, El Paso, and in Phoenix, to house migrant children and family units.

ICE released a statement Saturday evening, stating the contractors were helping ICE with providing temporary housing, and the transporting of “single minors and family units.”

In the same statement, ICE said it had moved the children since the incident.

After news of the incident, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, said he was concerned about the situation, and that he would take the appropriate action to get answers about why the migrant children were being housed at the hotel.

Subsequently, on Friday, TCRP filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to stop the expulsion of the kids held at the hotel — and instead forced them to place them in legal immigration proceedings.

TCRP requested an order that would require DHS to afford the minors the immigration procedures that would otherwise apply if not for the Centers for Disease Control Order put into effect in late March amid the pandemic.

The CDC order, issued March 20, temporarily prohibits the movement of certain migrants into the country from Canada or Mexico in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, and expels them from the country without an immigration court hearing.

On Monday, TCRP withdrew its temporary restraining order after the government agreed to not expel the minor children.

On Tuesday, in a corrected notice filed to the court, attorneys for DHS stated that the children in the hotel was actually one single unaccompanied minor, and that he would be transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and not expelled under the CDC order.

INDEPENDENT MONITOR RECOMMENDATION

Documents, however, that were filed earlier this month in the Flores Settlement case related to migrant children held at three family residential centers, and just a day before the news of the kids at the McAllen hotel, show that an independent monitor recommended against placing migrant children in the Temporary Housing Program.

The independent monitor, Andrea Ordin, along with Dr. Paul Wise, is tasked with monitoring the three family residential centers at the heart of the current litigation in the Flores Settlement Agreement.

Filed July 22, Ordin and Wise gave a status update to the court regarding the care of children at the facilities and made mention of hotels used for the Temporary Housing Program.

“… Since implementation of the CBP-issued (Title 42) expulsion protocols, unaccompanied minors and families routinely spend multiple days temporarily housed in hotels. The program regularly uses three hotels in McAllen and El Paso, Texas, and Phoenix, Arizona, but temporary housing in additional locations can be utilized when necessary,” the document stated.

The independent monitor mentioned ICE contractors MVM Inc., the same contractors identified in ICE’s statement Saturday evening.

It states these contractors, or “Transportation Specialists” (Specialists), provide oversight of the minors and families in the hotels.”

Additional notes made by the assigned monitor included their documented conversation with the ICE Juvenile Coordinator, who reported that as of July 16, 2020, it was housing 22 unaccompanied minors and 21 families in the McAllen hotel.

The document also gives insight into the structure of MVM and its contractors.

It states the specialists work in three rotating shifts so that “each minor is accompanied by at least one specialist at all times.”

“Minors are separated into rooms by age and gender. Same-gender siblings may reside in adjoining rooms with the connecting door open. Cross-gender siblings may also reside in adjoining rooms, but the connecting door must remain closed at night. ICE reserves empty rooms on either side of any room in which detainees are held to create a perimeter that ensures minimal interaction with public hotel guests. Specialists and all other MVM staff members are required to be dressed in non-identifying, business casual clothing,” the record shows.

The independent monitor also made mention of the average stay for detainees.

“On average, residents were held in hotels for a period of 4 to 5 days. Although the program aims to house residents for no more than 72 hours, 61% of single minors and 86% of families exceeded this length of stay, and 57% of all residents remained in hotels for more than 4 days (96 hours),” the July 22 document states.

Additional statistics show one unaccompanied minor was held at a hotel for 11 days, the longest length of stay for one family unit was seven days, and that six families had been held at a hotel for a seven-day period of time.

In addition to the prior assessment, the independent monitor stated it was in the process of conducting a more detailed audit of the MVM staff at hotels.

“An (sic) governmental audit of the hotel facilities is currently underway and ICE expects recommendations shortly. To date, assessment of the performance of MVM personnel overseeing the UACs housed in hotels has not yet been possible,” the document states.

“However, there appears to be a lack of formal oversight of the performance of the Specialists. It is not clear that there exists sufficient oversight of the practices, performance, and adequacy of staffing to address an extension of the program to a larger number of locations and an increase in the number of (unaccompanied children) and families placed in any given hotel.”

Finally, the independent monitor recommended against placing unaccompanied minors in the Temporary Housing Program.

“The custodial management of UACs requires well-established, formal systems of care and oversight, particularly if UAC time in custody is protracted. These requirements exist regardless of the intentions and qualifications of program staff,” the court record shows. “The enhanced vulnerability of (unaccompanied minors) in immigration custody has long been recognized and requires significant augmentation to safety and security provisions within all detention systems with responsibility for minors. While this recommendation pertains to all UACs, it is particularly directed at UACs below the age of 15 years.”

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee, who is overseeing the Flores Settlement Agreement case, said she’s expecting a status update from the parties involved on the use of temporary housing for migrant children by Aug. 7, records show.