Catherine E. Shoichet and Geneva Sands - September 3, 2020
Immigrant and civil rights groups accuse the US government of using the pandemic to create a shadow immigration system that skirts the law, with authorities denying vulnerable children protections they're entitled to and rushing to kick them out of the country.
"These children are being held at what are essentially black sites, with no access to the outside world. And not only no access to the outside world, but no access to the immigration system," says Karla Marisol Vargas, a senior attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project.
"This whole process is egregious, period," Vargas says. "It is a violation...of every single protection that these children have."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to respond to CNN's questions about the use of hotels to detain children and families, citing pending litigation. But officials have defended the practice in court filings, arguing that they're protecting the safety of kids in custody while following new public health guidelines.
Court documents obtained by CNN reveal that detaining children in hotels has become increasingly common during the coronavirus pandemic. According to recent court filings, more than 25 hotels in three states -- Arizona, Texas and Louisiana -- are currently being used to detain immigrant children.
More than 570 unaccompanied minors and more than 80 children traveling with family members have been detained in hotels since officials began invoking a public health law
to restrict immigration in March. Some children have been held in hotels for a few days, others for weeks.