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Civil Rights Group Wants To Stop ICE Detentions It Considers 'Blatantly Illegal'

Migrants peek out of the window of the fourth floor of a Hampton Inn in McAllen on July 23.
Migrants peek out of the window of the fourth floor of a Hampton Inn in McAllen on July 23.

From Texas Standard:

Last week, a video circulated widely on social media showing security guards shoving a man into an elevator at a McAllen hotel holding asylum-seekers, some of whom were children. The man was lawyer, Andy Udelsman, who works for the nonprofit Texas Civil Rights Project. He had gone to the hotel to learn more about the detainees, and to possibly represent them in a lawsuit.

Udelsman told Texas Standard's Joy Díaz on Monday that he was not at the hotel to protest, which some news outlets had reported. But he did confront the private security staff who were guarding the asylum-seekers.

"My last resort was just to start yelling, to hope that maybe somebody, a child, would hear and tell us some basic information about them so that we could represent them in a lawsuit," he said.

In the video, Udelsman asked the men, "Are you police?" One of them responded: "Don't worry about who we are."

He eventually found out that they worked for MVM, Inc., a private security firm hired by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

"The first question has to be, Why are they detaining children at a hotel?" Udelsman said.

ICE has been detaining children and adults in the McAllen Hampton Inn that Udelsman visited, according to reporting from Texas Public Radio. TPR also interviewed Udelsman for its story.

Udelsman said the security guards wouldn't let him talk to the asylum-seekers, and he questioned whether they had the authority to do so. Asylum-seekers, including children, have a right to an attorney, but not a government-funded public defender. They either have to pay for a private attorney or rely on a lawyers, like Udelsman, offering charity services.

Udelsman claimed that "the government is trying to remove children, and asylum-seekers in general, from this county as quickly as possible." He added: "They don't want these children to have attorneys because that would impede their ability to quickly remove people from the country."

At 2 a.m. the next morning, after his altercation with the MVM guards, Udelsman said the guards put the asylum-seekers in "unmarked, white vans" and left the hotel. He doesn't know where the guards took them. He filed a federal lawsuit to find their whereabouts and to get the courts to deem detaining asylum-seekers without allowing access to legal counsel "blatantly illegal."

Web story by Caroline Covington.

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.