An investigation by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting has found that the federal government is holding unaccompanied migrant children in secret facilities, potentially violating the rules governing the care of immigrant minors.
Reveal said a total number of clandestine sites could not be determined, but the investigation discovered at least five shelters in Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement, responsible for the care of migrant children, has not made the shelters’ existence public — nor had it disclosed the facilities to the minors’ attorneys, Reveal reported.
The children — which includes “at least 16 boys and girls for the refugee agency, some as young as 9 years old” — were sent from known shelters to the secret facilities, which “specialize in providing for youth with mental health and behavioral challenges.”
Though the ORR’s operating standards allow for transfers of migrant youth to out-of-network facilities, the practice of housing them in shelters without alerting their attorneys to the children’s whereabouts appears to violate the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, which sets standards for migrant children in federal custody.
Reveal said the refugee agency’s standards say that ORR “makes every effort to place children and youth within the ORR funded care provider network,” but makes room for out-of-network transfers, adding that “there may be instances when ORR determines there is no care provider available within the network to provide specialized services needed for special needs cases. In those cases, ORR will consider an alternative placement.”
However, the Flores Settlement Agreement states that the “federal government is supposed to provide attorneys representing detained children with a regular and detailed census of each minor in the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s custody.”