Phoenix City Councilwoman Kate Gallego announced on Thursday that an office building in Phoenix would no longer be used to temporarily house migrant children separated from their families.
She said ICE's contractor MVM Inc. canceled the lease on Thursday morning for the building near 20th Street and Osborn and won't use that building anymore.
The Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that MVM was holding children overnight at the office, violating occupancy rules for that building, according to Gallego.
"The problem was this wasn't a licensed care facility," said Gallego.
She said the investigation into the building started when a local neighbor recorded kids being led into the building. City and state Democratic lawmakers then began demanding that MVM Inc. stop using the seemingly vacant residential office building Monday.
"This is not a safe building to keep children overnight," said Gallego. "It was designed for an office space. It doesn't have the fire equipment. It doesn't have the appropriate number of exits."
Governor Doug Ducey directed the Arizona Department of Health Services to closely monitor the facility, but in a statement, ADHS said the contractor did not need a day care license.
"Children in the custody of the federal government, being transported by the federal government, to a temporary facility would not meet the statutory definition of child care," the agency said.
She said there were still signs in the building that children were held overnight, like mattresses and baby shampoo that can be seen through the window.
Ultimately, it was pressure applied by the city that prompted MVM to end its lease, Gallego said. City inspectors visited the building five times this week about the zoning concerns but weren't able to gain access to investigate any violations, she said.
MVM is revising its policies and procedures so this doesn't happen again, Gallego said.
Gallego called the move a small victory.
"[It's] a real win for the community," said Gallego.
MVM confirmed last week it was using the office building as a "temporary waiting area" for migrant children and families waiting for transport and initially denied that children were kept there overnight. This week, the company publicly acknowledged it had in fact housed children overnight, calling it a "regrettable exception" to their policy, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.
Despite promises from MVM, Gallego added that she is concerned the mistreatment of migrant children will happen somewhere else in Phoenix.
MVM sent out a statement on Thursday night, saying children weren't being detained at the office building and "no migrant family or child were detained at the building for three weeks, nor were they there under unsafe or poor conditions."
Read the full statement below.
We have been very clear, as specified in our contract, that MVM escorts migrant families and children from DHS custody to destinations designated by ORR. Because there may be wait times for planes and unexpected delays with the placement process, we ensure that these families and children have a safe and private place in the interim. While in our care, we ensure everyone has food, water, clean clothes and hygiene products.
Any allegations that MVM detains children - at this building or anywhere else - is inaccurate:
Children were not being detained at this office building.
No migrant family or child were detained at the building for three weeks, nor were they there under unsafe or poor conditions.
MVM does not operate any shelters.
MVM used this building as a safe and private place for the children and families we were escorting for a period of time this summer. We are no longer doing that, having decided it was not in the interest of those in our care and disruptive to the neighborhood.
We provided notice to both ICE and Arizona officials about the use of this building. In response, ICE approved such use under our contract, if needed, and the Bureau of Child Care Licensing with the Arizona Department of Health Services informed us that we would not require a license.
We work diligently with ICE, ORR and other agencies to minimize the time that these children are in transit. The process is a complex, logistical undertaking with many moving parts outside of MVM’s control, and recently complicated by a spike in the number of children and families MVM was asked to escort, a lag in flight availability, and unforeseen placement changes. While far from the norm, this led to some recent unavoidable delays when the period before a flight extended beyond just several hours. On those occasions and because MVM does not operate shelters, it is our policy to accompany the children affected to an appropriate accommodation such as a local hotel. When we identified instances in which our policy was not followed, MVM instituted tighter controls and gave employees additional instruction to prevent these regrettable exceptions from happening again.
Since 2014, we have escorted 130,000 individuals and have always committed to the best interest of each individual child and family while they are in our care, adhering to the highest professional standards. In light of this recent experience, we have initiated a program review and will take appropriate actions based on our findings.
Again, it would be inaccurate to report MVM is detaining children at this or any location. It is simply false.
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