EL PASO -- A class-action lawsuit aims to end the Trump administration's expulsion of migrant children who arrive at the border alone seeking refuge. Many of the kids have been held in hotels in Texas border cities including El Paso and McAllen before being removed from the country.
The ACLU is spearheading the lawsuit filed in Washington D.C. along with the Texas Civil Rights Project and Oxfam America seeking to block border officials from suspending legal safeguards for children who arrive at the border alone.
"We filed this class-action lawsuit because the Trump administration left us no choice, repeatedly refusing to allow its unprecedented shadow immigration policy to be tested in the courts in an individual case," Lee Gelernt, the lead ACLU attorney in the case, said in a statement.
The Trump administration said it needs Title 42 expulsions to quickly remove migrants including children on their own from the U.S. to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"The policy is the most extreme asylum ban yet from this administration, ignoring all of the protections Congress has enacted since World War II to protect children and those fleeing danger," said Gallert.
The lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court argues Title 42 authorizes the summary expulsion of kids, “even if the children show no signs of having COVID-19 and even if the children are fleeing danger and seeking protection in the United States.”
In the past minors were placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services as their asylum cases were decided. Instead, a private transportation company has kept hundreds of detained children in hotels in Texas border cities including El Paso, McAllen and elsewhere across the U.S. until they can be removed from the country. The lawsuit alleges at least 2000 children have been expelled under Title 42
“The transportation specialists are non-law enforcement staff members trained to work with minors and to ensure that all aspects of the transport or stay are compliant with the Flores Settlement Agreement,” according to a statement from an ICE official. The Flores Settlement established standards for the care of migrant children in U.S. Custody.
The MVM transportation company employees responsible for traveling with the minors “are often their first line of defense,” according to ICE.
The transportation company employees previously watched over children they transported between facilities or to HHS. Now their duties include caring for kids during hotel stays. The company is not licensed for childcare.
ICE said those employees “must have at least two years of documented experience in a field related to law, social work, detention, corrections, or similar occupation to qualify as a transportation specialist.” And they pass background and criminal record checks.
But during their hotel stays the children are cut off from relatives and legal services according to immigrant advocates. A Texas Civil Rights Project attorney was removed by force from a Hampton Inn and Suites hotel in McAllen last month when he tried to gain access to the young children held there to provide legal representation.
The Hilton company which includes Hampton Inn & Suites issued a statement after the high-profile incident was captured on video and shared on social media. “We understand these reservations were to house migrants, including minors, as they were transported between locations. This is not activity that we support or in any way want associated with our hotels” according to a statement issued July 24thby the company.
“Our policy has always been that hotels should not be used as detention centers or for detaining individuals. We expect all Hilton properties to reject business that would use a hotel in this way. We are in the process of contacting all Hilton owners and management companies in the U.S. to remind them of our policy, and provide guidance on identifying and preventing this type of business.”
The Associated Press first reported hotels were used to house migrant children as young as one-year old before they were expelled from the country.