The Trump administration is holding children as young as 9 years old in previously undisclosed facilities.
The Trump administration is jailing more than a dozen immigrant children at least five clandestine facilities across the country whose existence has not been made public until now, according to a new report by Reveal.
The previously unheard-of practice may violate court mandates on how the U.S. government must treat immigrant children, Reveal notes — and even more secret facilities like this could exist.
While the minors were initially placed at "known shelters," Reveal reports, they were then transferred to "off-the-books facilities that specialize in providing for youth with mental health and behavioral challenges."
There are at least 16 children being detained, some as young as 9 years old, in facilities in Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the federal agency in charge of caring for immigrant children, never acknowledged the existence of these shelters — not even to the lawyers representing the jailed kids.
The use of secret facilities appears to be a new tactic put in place by the Trump administration. "If that was happening, it was something that I was not aware of," Robert Carey, who led ORR in the final two years of President Obama's administration, told Reveal.
"We had pretty exhaustive oversight procedures and monitoring procedures," he added. "These systems are in place for a reason. There's an inherent vulnerability in the care for children."
Under a 1997 court agreement known as the Flores Settlement, the federal government must let attorneys representing jailed children know where each child in ORR custody is being held. It appears that ORR did not follow this court mandate in these cases.
"Detained unaccompanied children with mental health issues are some of the most vulnerable children, and when the government does not provide access to their whereabouts, it calls into question the basic underpinnings of our democratic institutions," Holly Cooper, an attorney representing the class of unaccompanied minors in ORR's care, told Reveal.
Cooper first discovered one of the secret child jails months ago, and has since pressed ORR for more information. She told Reveal that she believes ORR is withholding information about more undisclosed sites — and more children being secretly jailed there.
The new revelations are the latest in a string of Trump administration scandals related to its detention practices of immigrant children.
In July 2018, the Trump administration was caught detaining children in an unlicensed Phoenix facility with no kitchen and only a few working toilets. Additional investigations uncovered staffers "imposing psychotropic drugs on children who don't know what they're taking or what its effects may be."
Trump's policy of ripping children away from their parents and placing them in cages resulted in national and international outrage. While Trump claims to have stopped separating children — including infants and toddlers — from their parents and throwing them in baby jails, new reports of family separation continue to surface.
Every day, Trump and his administration show how little they care for the health and well-being of immigrant children — even to the point of hiding their very existence.
Published with permission of The American Independent.