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The Miami Herald reports that according to documents obtained by the Associated Press, President Donald J. Trump’s administration is detaining immigrant children as young as one for as long as two weeks in privately contracted hotels instead of customary Health and Human Services facilities before summarily deporting them to other countries.

  • Before March 2020, officials typically sent unaccompanied Central American children who crossed into the United States seeking asylum to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services, where there are bedrooms, schooling, and access to attorneys who can help the children access family sponsors.
  • The above practice is a requirement of both federal anti-trafficking laws and a two-decade old legal settlement that governs the treatment of migrant children.
  • However, in March Trump announced it would begin broadly refusing entry to any asylum seekers, citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for doing so.
  • Since March, Customs and Border Protection said it has apprehended 1,564 unaccompanied children at the southern border.
  • Only 61 arrived at Health and Human Services facilities. Customs and Border did not state how many children or expelled immediately, how many are sent to hotels instead of the Human Services facilities, or how they make that determination.
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement handles the hotel placement through a private contractor which takes children to three Hampton Inn & Suites hotels in Phoenix, Arizona and El Paso and McAllen, Texas.
  • Records show children are typically detained for several days. Some three to five-year-olds have been detained for as long as two weeks, and one 5-year-old was detained for 19 days.
  • Records indicate that at least 169 children have been detained at these hotels.

Leecia Welch, an attorney at the nonprofit National Center for Youth Law, rebuked the practice. She said,

They’ve created a shadow system in which there’s no accountability for expelling very young children [and] There really aren’t enough words to describe what a disgraceful example of sacrificing children this is to advance heartless immigration policies.

The Herald notes that Immigration and Customs Enforcement referred to the contractors as “transportation specialists” who are “non-law enforcement staff members trained to work with minors and to ensure that all aspects of the transport or stay are compliant.”

However, the agency did not say whether these staff are licensed child care professionals or if they passed FBI background checks.

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