HOUSTON (AP) – President Donald Trump’s government has agreed not to deport a group of immigrant children he detained at a Texas hotel under a coronavirus emergency declaration and instead allow them to try to stay in United States, the government reported Monday.
The decision came days after The Associated Press first reported on the United States government’s practice of detaining unaccompanied minors in hotels before quickly deporting them during the coronavirus pandemic. Government data obtained by the AP shows that the United States had detained minors on 200 occasions over the course of two months in three Hampton Inn & Suites hotels in Arizona and two Texas border cities.
However, the Trump administration has not said it will stop detaining children in hotels. The legal groups that sued Friday night said they still plan to challenge the practice in court.
His settlement only includes 17 people known to have been detained until Thursday at the Hampton Inn in McAllen. After the hotel owner said Friday that he would suspend reservations for rooms used to detain children, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE) removed the children from the hotel, but declined to say where it had taken them.
Now, the immigration authorities will transfer the children to shelters operated by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), where they will have access to lawyers and will eventually be sent to relatives while applying for asylum or another immigration resource to try to stay in the country. Legal groups on Sunday withdrew their request for a temporary court order.
“The children at this hotel avoided the disaster just because we found out about them before they were deported, but hundreds, if not thousands, of other children are secretly returned to danger,” said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the American Union of Civil liberties. “The government must stop secretly expelling children without giving them asylum hearings.”
Federal anti-trafficking laws and the Flores Agreement – which governs the treatment of migrant children – normally require that most minors be sent to shelters operated by HHS. The states in which they are located grant permits to shelters, and usually have rooms, recreational areas and education.
Instead, more than 2,000 children have been deported since March, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a statement allowing immigration agencies to suspend the asylum process in practice due to concerns that the COVID-19.
The AP found that ICE-paid contractors have detained minors as young as 1 year old at Hampton Inns. ICE said MVM Inc.’s contractors were “transportation specialists” and declined to confirm whether they had passed the FBI’s background checks or had childcare experience. Instead, he said the contractors were “non-police staff members trained to work with minors and ensure that all aspects of transportation or stay comply” with the Flores agreement.