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Facing Lawsuit, Trump Administration Says It Will Not Expel Migrant Children Held In Hotels

Hurricane Hanna rolls in near the Hampton Inn where migrants were being held.
Reynaldo Leaños Jr. | Texas Public Radio
Hurricane Hanna rolls in near the Hampton Inn where migrants were being held.

The Trump administration announced this week that it will not expel migrant children and parents who were being held at the Hampton Inn Hotel and Suites in McAllen.

Lawyers, on behalf of the federal government, said in court filings on Monday that “the unnamed single minors who were at the identified hotel on July 23, 2020 and still in the United States when the TRO (temporary restraining order) was filed are being processed or will be processed under the immigration procedures set out in Title 8 of the U.S. Code and not under the CDC Order.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order in late March citing part of Title 42of the U.S. Code that they said allows them to quickly remove people, including asylum seekers and children, who cross in between ports of entry, to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 into the U.S.

A lawsuit was filed on Friday, July 24. 

The Texas Civil Rights Project was the plaintiff in that case as “next of friend” for the children being held at the hotel. The ACLU filed the suit on their behalf to try and stop the expulsion of the children at the hotel.

“Over the weekend the government agreed to take everybody, every child, who was at that hotel outside of the expulsion process, the so-called Title 42 process, which is the justification that the government is using right now to expel children without any due process and using the pandemic as an excuse,” said Efrén Olivares of the Texas Civil Rights Project.

The AP obtained documents and first reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement was holding children, sometimes for weeks, in hotels before the agency sent them to their home countries.

On Thursday, July 23, a day before the lawsuit was filed, a video was posted on social media by the Texas Civil Rights Project that showed one of their attorneys, Andrew Udelsman,trying to access the fourth floor of the Hampton Inn hotel.

A group of men in plain clothes asked for Udelsman’s badge, then Udelsman asked the men who they were, but they refused to identify themselves.

“I’m an attorney. I’m here to help!” shouted Udelsman in the video trying to communicate with some of the children in the hotel.

The men shove Udelsman into an elevator and told him to get out.

“On July 23, an ICE contractor, MVM, Inc. was on location in a hotel in McAllen, TX providing temporary housing for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). To ensure the safety of those in custody, contract officers, on a dedicated floor, positioned themselves at both the elevator and exit doors,” said ICE officials in a statement provided to TPR. “During this time, two unidentified individuals attempted to forcefully gain access to that area of the building — but the officers were able to move them back to the elevators away from the occupied rooms.”

Olivares with the Texas Civil Rights Project said ICE’s statement was a lie.

“I was outraged when I saw one of our team members, one of the attorneys that I supervise, be assaulted in that way simply for trying to help immigrant children,” Olivares said. “That confirmed to us that something extremely unlawful and disturbing was going on at that hotel because you have these men not wearing any uniforms, refusing to identify themselves, acting violently to an attorney trying to provide legal services to immigrant families. That is alarming.”

ICE’s statement also said that their agency was “not currently holding any individuals at that location.”

A previous statement from Hilton Hotels also said that the children were no longer at the hotel.

A day after ICE released their statement, protestors gathered outside the hotel and said they saw children waving to them from the top floor.

“We also witnessed some security try to come up to us and tell us that we can’t be here, we can’t be here protesting, we can’t be doing this,” said Cythina Hernandez, a protestor.

A spokesperson for Hilton confirmed in a statement that children were still at the hotel.

“We would like to address questions about our statement, which noted, ‘All single immigrant minors and their chaperones associated with this booking have since departed the hotel.’ The status of these individuals was the issue inquired about by both media and concerned individuals, and the statement remains true. Our intent was to answer the questions that had been posed, not to misdirect anyone,” said the statement. 

“In light of the ongoing pandemic, quarantining rules and a literal hurricane bearing down on the area, a short grace period was requested to allow time to relocate a group of adults, some of whom have their children with them. Due to the circumstances, we agreed. We have been informed all parties will have relocated as early as tomorrow, but no later than Monday. We cannot speak for any other organization that may have produced any conflicting reports.”

Migrants peek out of the window of the fourth floor of a Hampton Inn in McAllen on July 23.
Credit Dominic Anthony Walsh | Texas Public Radio
Migrants peek out of the window of the fourth floor of a Hampton Inn in McAllen on July 23.

Olivares said this is just one hotel that they’ve found out about.

“Who knows how many more hotels around the country, in Texas and beyond, are being used to hold people in secret,” he said.

He said he believes the government ruled in their favor because they were caught red-handed

“And they know what they are doing is illegal and unlawful and unconstitutional and that’s why they agreed to stop,” he said.

Olivares said they will continue to fight Title 42 expulsions.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr. can be reached at Reynaldo@TPR.org and on Twitter at @ReynaldoLeanos.

Dominic Anthony Walsh can be reached at Dominic@TPR.org and on Twitter at @_DominicAnthony.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr. can be reached at reynaldo@tpr.org and on Twitter at @ReynaldoLeanos
Dominic Anthony Walsh can be reached at Dominic@TPR.org and on Twitter at @_DominicAnthony