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News > U.S.

US Government Reportedly Uses ‘Secret’ Shelters to Detain Migrant Children

  •  Immigrant children are shown walking in single file at the facility near the Mexican border in Tornillo.

    Immigrant children are shown walking in single file at the facility near the Mexican border in Tornillo. | Photo: Reuters

Published 19 March 2019

According to the investigation, the Office of Refugee Resettlement is holding at least 16 boys and girls, some as young as 9 years old.

An exposé by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting reported Monday that the U.S. government is relying on clandestine shelters to hold unaccompanied migrant children, in possible violation of the long-standing Flores Settlement agreement.

US Holding Nearly 13,000 Migrant Children in Detention Centers

According to the report the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is responsible for unaccompanied migrant children, has not publicly revealed the existence of the shelters. Attorney Holly Cooper, who represents the class-action of unaccompanied minors in the agency’s care, told Reveal the government failed in its obligation to report every minor’s location and believes ORR is still withholding information about other locations. 

Under the 1997 Flores Agreement, the federal government is supposed to provide attorneys representing detained children with a regular and detailed census of each minor in the agency’s custody. 

Cooper learned about one of the facilities months ago. After requesting information about additional sites, she discovered several others. At the moment it remains unclear how many total sites are under operation, but there are at least five in Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. 

The alleged minors being held initially were placed at public shelters around the country but were later transferred to these undisclosed facilities that specialize in mental health and behavioral cases. Currently, according to Reveal, ORR is holding at least 16 boys and girls, some as young as 9 years old.

“ORR needs to provide answers immediately about where they are holding asylum-seeking children, and what, if any, child welfare regulations those facilities are meeting,” Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley said on Twitter. The Oregon lawmaker has introduced a bill that would require shelter operators to grant access to members of Congress.

In a response to Splinter News, regarding this investigation, the ORR claimed it "does not have clandestine facilities," yet accepted that  “at times facilities providing highly specialized care are used...These facilities can be out of the ORR care network.” Even indicated that the ORR is currently holding approximately 15 to 20 unaccompanied migrant children “in out of network placements,” which matches with the investigation estimates and leads. 

One of the facilities is Millcreek Behavioral Health in Arkansas where Nestor Dubon’s cousin is being held.  As a sponsor, he said he’s met all the requirements yet Dubon’s 16-year-old cousin is still in custody since he first entered the United States more than two years ago. The most troubling fact is that some of the facilities have been accused “of sexual harassment and physical abuse,” as is the case of the Rolling Hills Hospital in Ada, Oklahoma. 

Both centers are operated by Acadia Healthcare Company, Inc, a firm that trades in the Nasdaq, meaning “you can buy stocks for a company that's holding unaccompanied children. Publicly traded but not publicly known,” Aura Bogado, one of the journalists who wrote the story tweeted on Tuesday. 

This investigation comes days after the former ORR director, Scott Loyd, comes back to the spotlight as new documents reveal further how the agency managed pregnant teenagers in their care. In November 2018, an The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit was presented against him for mishandling abortion requests from migrant teenagers. 

According to a New York Times report, 12,800 migrant children were being detained in September 2018 by the United States' government. 

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