L.A. councilman wants to stop hotels from housing migrant children

L.A. councilman wants to stop hotels from housing migrant children

Originally Published in the Los Angeles Times

Emily Alpert Reyes - August 18, 2020

Councilmember Gil Cedillo

Councilman Gil Cedillo speaks at a meeting at Los Angeles City Hall in 2017.  (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo wants to stop local hotels from being used by private security firms to house and detain migrant children or families, saying he was appalled by a recent report that a Chinatown hotel had been used for that purpose.

Cedillo introduced a proposal Tuesday to bar or suspend the certificate of occupancy — a document that confirms a structure is in compliance with building codes — for any hotel that is used for detaining migrant youth or families.

Doing so, his spokesman Conrado TerrazasCross said, would prevent such hotels from being able to operate.

“We don’t want anybody to ever think this is OK in the city of Los Angeles,” Cedillo said. “This is a sanctuary city and that has to mean something ... We are not participating in the horrific, draconian policies of Donald Trump.”

Implementing the proposal would require the entire council to vote to ask city lawyers to draft an ordinance, which would be returned to the council for approval.

Federal officials have increasingly been using hotels to detain migrant families and unaccompanied children under the Trump administration, in what critics have referred to as a “shadow system” that lacks important safeguards.

Lawyers for one Guatemalan teen told The Times in May that their 16-year-old client, an asylum seeker, had been shuttled from city to city and hotel to hotel, repeatedly cut off from contact with her attorneys. The growing practice under cover of the COVID-19 pandemic has alarmed immigrant advocates who say the facilities are not designed for them and risks additional trauma, the Associated Press reported.

This week, the New York Times reported that a Best Western hotel in Chinatown — which is part of the council district represented by Cedillo — was one of several hotels used by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to detain migrants during the 2020 fiscal year.

The newspaper also identified a Quality Suites in San Diego and other hotels operated by major chains in Texas, Arizona, Florida and Washington state, citing government data and court documents. ICE told the New York Times that the children were being adequately cared for at the hotels.

The Best Western chain said that its branded hotels are independently owned and operated, but said the Chinatown hotel had “confirmed it is not providing accommodations to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees.” When asked whether migrants had been detained there previously, Best Western said it was “not aware of any evidence to support the allegation that individuals were detained at the hotel in 2020.”

A front desk employee reached Monday at the Best Western Plus Dragon Gate Inn said the hotel had been closed since April and declined to provide any further information.

The American Hotel & Lodging Assn., when asked about the proposal from Cedillo, said in a statement that hotels “are not intended or equipped to serve as detention centers or for detaining people.”

“We are concerned about recent news reports of hotel rooms being used in this manner and we encourage hoteliers to be vigilant against suspicious booking tactics that may be used to disguise the true purpose of a reservation,” the association said.

Cedillo was skeptical that hotels would not realize that rooms were being booked for detainees. “It seems incumbent upon the hotel — or any business — to be concerned about who they’re working with,” the councilman said.

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