Migrant children held in hotels with "no security" or protection from COVID-19, civil rights advocate says

Migrant kids are being held in U.S. hotels
Migrant kids are being held in U.S. hotels 03:25

The federal government is holding dozens of separated migrant children at hotels, not detention centers, while they await deportation from the United States. The Trump administration is now facing a lawsuit filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project.

From March through June, the Border Patrol says it apprehended nearly 100,000 people at the Southwest border. More than 6,000 are unaccompanied children.

"They have suffered trauma, you know, getting to the United States, and now they are suffering trauma at the hands of our government," said Karla Marisol Vargas, a senior attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project.

The group recently uncovered unaccompanied migrant children set for deportation being held in Hampton Inn & Suites in Arizona and Texas.

"There's absolutely nothing in the established protocol that says that these children need to be sent to hotels," Vargas said.

That's because U.S. law says children illegally entering the country must be held at facilities overseen by the government as they await their asylum cases.

CBS News has learned the hotels have been used nearly 200 times. Meanwhile, more than 10,000 beds sit empty at government shelters, according to the Associated Press.

"There seemed to be no security at this site. I did not see any sort of indication that there — during a pandemic — if there were any emergency supplies, any sort of ventilators," said Roberto Lopez, a community outreach coordinator with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Lopez was part of the team that documented the conditions in one of the hotels.

The children are supervised by a contractor used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which said in a statement to CBS News, "The transportation specialists (are) ... non-law enforcement staff members trained to work with minors and to ensure that all aspects of the transport or stay are compliant."

Data obtained by CBS News shows that since March, border officials have deported more than 2,000 children under an order implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Back in May, that order was extended indefinitely. 

"This administration ... have jumped on this opportunity to use the pandemic as a justification to essentially waive all asylum protections for individuals," Vargas said.

Hilton and Castle Hospitality, which franchised the hotels, told CBS News they are "committed to providing safe, clean and comfortable accommodations to all guests, especially vulnerable populations." Castle Hospitality said it complies with all lodging-related state and federal regulations and that their customers have assured them that they are meeting all requirements related to housing these groups.