by Bismarck D. Andino
Members of the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) took to social media Thursday denouncing lack of due process under new immigration rules after actions by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to hold immigrant children at a Hampton Inn & Suites hotel in McAllen, Texas. The story was first reported by the Associated Press.
The group filed a lawsuit on Friday at the U.S District Court for the District of Columbia, maintaining that DHS is “stashing children in a hotel at the border, away from advocates and lawyers,” under a new tactic in the immigration system called “Title 42 Process,” which speeds up their expulsion from U.S soil.
The Plaintiff, TCRP, maintains that “possibly dozens of unaccompanied children” are detained by DHS. According to observations from TCRP staff some adult immigrants may have been held at the facility as well.
On Saturday, the Hilton brand, which owns the Hampton Inns, told TCRP that they did not facilitate the reservations and they do not support this activity. They also said the minors are no longer at their property and will not accept similar reservations in the future.
TCRP confirmed Saturday the children were moved from the hotel. However, it is not known where they were taken, TCRP now urges Congress to investigate.
TCRP’s digital manager Dani Marrero said in a Facebook live discussion, “This is atrocious, this is one more [example] of how the Trump administration and decades of U.S policy has attacked immigrants, attacked asylum seekers, and is ending asylum as we know it without any due process or any of the rights that the U.S claims to offer to people who are here.”
In March, the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) temporarily suspended the introduction of certain people from countries with an outbreak of a communicable disease. In May, however, that was extended to individuals migrating through Canada and Mexico, allowing a gap in immigration laws.
About a dozen people showed up to the hotel’s parking lot Friday honking their car horns hoping to draw the children’s attention to the hotel windows in order to identify them because DHS refuses to give the group that information, Marrero said.
TCRP members held up posters from the parking lot in order to communicate with the minors. The minors, however, had no access to the hotel phones. A photo (at top) shared by Roberto Lopez, a racial & economic justice outreach coordinator at TCRP, shows some of the unnamed children holding a white piece of paper through the window that read “we don’t have phone,” and “we need your help.” [See photo at top from Texas Civil Rights Project Facebook page.]
Lopez said they were able to find out about the children because a 13-year-old girl who got expelled was able to speak to her mother and mentioned to her there were more children in the hotel.
“I went to the Hampton Inn, just kind of drove around in the back area, that’s when I saw several unmarked white vans, there’s no logo, no insignia, nothing in there to indicate what exactly they are,” Lopez said on Facebook Live. “But, inside, I saw silhouettes of what appeared to be children and some families. There [were] about seven or eight of them [vans] in the back.”
TCRP’s attorney Andy Udelsman tried to bypass three plainclothes men guarding the hallway near the hotel’s elevator. “I’m an attorney. If you need help tell me your name,” Udelsman shouted in Spanish as he was aggressively pushed into the elevator to get out, according to footage shared on TCRP’s Facebook page.
The Independent contacted DHS for comment, including to inquire whether the children came to the U.S unaccompanied during the pandemic or if they are, in fact, children who were separated from their parents earlier. DHS, however, did not immediately respond to the request.
Friday’s lawsuit, on the other hand, is seeking a temporary restraining order requiring Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf to inform the children and/or their parents that TCRP is prepared to represent them if they want counsel, and to ban DHS from expelling the children under the “Title 42 Process” until the Court can rule on the legality of that Process.
Last month, in a similar case U.S District judge Carl Nichols blocked the Trump administration from deporting an unaccompanied minor to Honduras because the emergency pandemic rule denied him protection under federal immigration laws.
In that instance, the judge agreed with the plaintiff that the CDC had exceeded its authority in preventing asylum-seekers and children at U.S. borders from entering the country, which according to the judge ignored the humanitarian protections previously issued by Congress.
Meanwhile, the latest data from Custom and Border Protection (CBP) shows that the Trump administration expelled 27,504 individuals in June under the CDC coronavirus directive. In March, they expelled 6,927 people, and at least 2,000 children have been expelled since then.
Lopez said children being detained at hotels is not an isolated event. In fact, he said it is occurring at multiple sites.
“The federal government has contracted out with Hampton Inn,” he said. “I think almost 200 times now.”
The Associated Press (AP) obtained documents that confirmed this number. The AP also reported that a private contractor for U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement is taking the children as young as 1 year old to three Hampton Inns in Arizona and Texas while 10,000 beds for children sit empty at government shelters.
Nevertheless, Marrero said it’s not about the hotels but the process in which the government is secretly acting, which she said allows room for human rights violations.
“When people are in these hotels, it becomes a black box of information,” Marrero said, “neither family nor counsel or people trying to help can talk to them or even know where they’re at.”
Lopez also added that children are not meant to be confined in small spaces and putting them in these types of situations would cause them mental health issues.
“They need to be let out and gone through the right process,” he said. “This administration is just simply ignoring the law. For all of its talk about law and order, there is no law and there is no order in this.”
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