Defense contractor held migrant children in vacant Phoenix office building: report

A U.S. defense contractor detained dozens of immigrant children in a vacant office building in Phoenix, Ariz., despite claiming that it does not operate shelters or any type of housing for children detained by federal agents.

Video recorded by a neighbor and obtained by The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) shows children being carried into the facility, a 3,200-square-foot vacant office building, early last month.

The building, according to CIR, is not licensed under Arizona state law to hold children. It is also not listed among shelters operated through the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

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When contacted by reporters about the facility, the contractor, MVM Inc., initially pointed to a statement on its website stating that it does not "operate shelters or any other type of housing for minors." But after being told about the video, a spokesperson for the facility responded that it "is not a shelter or a child care facility. … It’s a temporary holding place” for children awaiting transport to other detention centers.

An official said they were not sure how long the children stayed at MVM, but noted that the intended stay was just a few hours. Reporters who visited the facility, however, noted medication schedules and bottles of baby shampoo that could indicate children are staying in the facility for longer periods of time.

Pallets of food and water and a paper shredder bin, along with increased security, were reported by neighbors, according to the CIR. One neighbor told the outlet that she was uncomfortable having the facility in the area, noting that she had never seen children being brought outside to play.

"I was like, ‘OK, they’re definitely doing something they shouldn’t be doing,’ ” neighbor Lianna Dunlap said following her second sighting of children being ushered into the facility. “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 added. “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.”

The statement on MVM's website says the company, which has been providing "transport services" for the government since 2014, has "tremendous empathy" for migrant children separated under the Trump administration's policies.

"While these children and families are in our care, our priority is ensuring they are safe and treated with dignity and compassion," the company wrote. "We have been providing these transport services since 2014 and take pride in the level of care these children receive from our dedicated, professional staff."

On Sunday, MVM released a statement disputing the CIR report's characterization of the facility as a holding center, saying the building was being used as a "temporary waiting area."

"As we told CIR/Reveal when they inquired, we sometimes use this building as a temporary waiting area because it is a safe and private place for families and children in between transport. We would never leave these families or children at an airport or other transportation hub to wait for hours," the company said in its statement.

"If needed and as approved by ICE, we use this building for that purpose and the standard waiting time is several hours." 

The news follows mounting criticism of the Trump administration and its immigration policies, which led to thousands of migrant children being separated from their families from April to June. The so-called zero tolerance policy, which prosecutes migrants caught crossing into the U.S. illegally, drew sharp backlash from both sides as audio and video of distraught parents and children surfaced over the past few weeks.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republican threatens to push for Rosenstein impeachment unless he testifies Judge suggests Trump’s tweet about Stormy Daniels was ‘hyperbole’ not defamation Rosenstein faces Trump showdown MORE reversed his administration's policy of separating families apprehended at the southern border last month, but made no provisions for the families who had already been separated under the original policy.

Updated: Sunday 9:52 p.m.