Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf defended the detention of migrant children—some as young as one—without their parents in Texas and Arizona hotels before deportation at a Thursday Senate hearing, saying it’s a practice Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has used “for decades.”
Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf appears during a Senate Homeland Security … [+]
“It’s not new,” said Wolf in response to questions from Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-Az), explaining the DHS has contracts that go back decades to house individuals it’s in the “course of processing” in hotels.
The Associated Press reported in July that three hotels in McAllen and El Paso, Texas, and Phoenix, Arizona, had been used to house migrant children nearly 200 times while government shelters—equipped with 10,000 beds, school systems and lawyers who place the children with families—remained empty.
One hotel, the McAllen hotel run by Castle Hospitality, said it didn’t know rooms would be used to detain children until they arrived.
Sinema complained that the city of Phoenix was not notified that children were being stored in hotels, to which Wolf agreed communication between the DHS and the city should improve.
The hotels mentioned in the report have since said they’ll no longer allow migrant children to be held at their properties, according to Sinema, who asked: “Can you tell me where this population of migrant children are being held?”
Wolf said that the department is continuing to work with other, local hotels.
“We do that because [Office of Refugee Resettlement] is not able to take those unaccompanied alien children at that specific time or another housing location ICE facility is not readily available because of the part of the country, or as you indicated they are being deported the very next day,” said Wolf. “So this is a practice that the department has used going back for decades.”
The report about ICE storing young children in hotels—including two one-year-olds for three days and three-to-five-year-olds for two-plus weeks—stirred renewed controversy about the government’s policies around minor deportation. Claiming the practice failed to comply with the Flores settlement, which limits time and conditions of migrant minors’ detention, lawyers and human rights organizations quickly responded with lawsuits against the government. Federal asylum law and court precedent mandates that migrant children be placed with family sponsors following shelter stays before being granted asylum, but President Trump voided that practice, instead requiring the immediate deportation of children from the U.S., according to the AP.