Footage shows children being herded into a vacant building with no kitchen and only a few toilets, outfitted with dark windows, new security cameras, and extra locks on the doors.
A U.S. defense contractor has been quietly detaining immigrant children in an unlicensed, vacant office building in Arizona, despite claiming publicly that it does not operate any housing facilities for minors.
In video footage shot by a neighbor and obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), children can be seen being led out of vans and into the facility located in Phoenix, Arizona. One child was so young she was carried into the building.
The footage is from early June, just a few weeks after White House chief of staff John Kelly said that children separated from their parents and taken into government custody as part of Trump's "zero tolerance" approach to prosecuting unauthorized border crossings would be "put into foster care or whatever."
The empty building, which has no kitchen and only a few toilets, apparently falls into the category of "whatever."
According to the CIR, the building is not licensed under Arizona state law to hold children. It is also not listed among shelters operated through the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), nor on the state child care licensing website. Operating a child care facility without a license is a misdemeanor in Arizona.
The vacant office building was leased in March by MVM Inc., a private defense contractor that has received government contracts worth nearly $250 million to transport immigrant children since 2014, the CIR reported.
When reporters questioned MVM about the facility, the contractor responded at first by referring them to a statement on its website saying that it does not "operate shelters or any other type of housing for minors."
But after learning about the video footage, a spokesperson for MVM said the building "is not a shelter or a child care facility. … It’s a temporary holding place" where children wait to be transported to detention centers in other locations.
The spokesperson said the facility is meant to hold children for only a few hours, but could not say how long the kids actually ended up staying there.
Reporters who gained access to the building last week found inflatable mattresses, bottles of baby shampoo, and medication schedules — indicating that children who were brought to the facility "could have been held there for an extended period," according to the CIR.
Neighbors also reported seeing pallets of food and water delivered to the building, which was equipped with new security cameras, extra locks on the doors, and a paper shredder bin right outside one of the doors.
Lianna Dunlap, who lives next door to the building, said she became uneasy after seeing "vanloads of dark-haired kids speaking Spanish being ushered out of van" for the second day in a row.
"I was like, 'OK, they’re definitely doing something they shouldn’t be doing,'" Dunlap told the CIR. "It looked very secretive."
"There’s been times where I drive by and I just start crying because, you know, it’s right behind my house," Dunlap said. "I don’t know and I think that’s the worst part — not knowing what’s actually going on in there and just hoping that they’re OK."
Dunlap said she didn't see any children leave the building until nearly three weeks after she watched them arrive. When she tried to record footage of the kids leaving, workers reportedly blocked her view with vehicles. Another neighbor said she hadn't seen any children being brought outside to play after they entered the facility.
When neighbors tried to ask questions of the workers, they were met with silence or perfunctory answers.
A statement on MVM's website says the company has "tremendous empathy for the families and children" who have been forcibly separated under the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy.
It also has a monetary interest in them.
According to a recent report by the Daily Beast, MVM was awarded an $8 million five-year contract in September 2017 to "provide assistance" in detention centers for unaccompanied children. The company also has contracts with other government agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
This latest revelation is just one in a series of disturbing reports detailing the inhumane treatment of immigrant children by the Trump administration.
In one recent investigation, the CIR uncovered evidence that the government is sending children to facilities with histories of neglect and child abuse, including physical and sexual assault. According to the report, nearly half of the $3.4 billion the U.S. government has paid to facilities to house and supervise immigrant children in the last four years went to homes with serious allegations of mistreating children.
Another CIR investigation found that at least one facility contracted by the government to house immigrant children had engaged in a practice of forcibly injecting children with powerful psychiatric drugs in an effort to subdue them.
The Trump administration's policy of tearing families apart has drawn sharp criticism from international bodies like the United Nations, which warned last month that the practice of detaining children "may amount to torture."
Most Americans are similarly appalled by what they're seeing — and as this new report suggests, there may be even more reason to be concerned about what we're not seeing.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.