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Defense Contractor's Use of Vacant Office Building to House Children Underscores 'Perverse Secrecy' of Trump Immigration Policy

"This thing where the government took children from their parents at the border? It's more horrific than we have imagined."

Julia Conley

A neighbor filmed children being taken into a vacant office building in Phoenix, Arizona, and showed the footage to reporters when she suspected the children were immigrants who had been detained and possibly separated from their parents. (Photo: Reveal/YouTube)

An investigation sparked by reports from concerned neighbors who suspected that immigrant children were being housed in a vacant office building in Phoenix, illustrated the secrecy surrounding the care of children by the U.S. government and defense contractors that have been hired to help enforce the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy.

Reveal at the Center for Investigative Reporting reported this weekend on an empty commercial space in Arizona's capital, where neighbors had seen groups of Spanish-speaking children being taken in recent weeks.

One neighbor secretly filmed several children being led into the building in early June.

The children were not seen coming out until three weeks later, just after President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending his policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

"The neighbors say they saw five unmarked white vans that hold about 12 passengers each pull up to take children away," reported Aura Bogado, Ziva Branstetter, and Vanessa Swales.

The building, which has "dark windows, no kitchen, and only a few toilets," had been leased to MVM, Inc.—a defense contractor which, as Common Dreams reported last month, won an $8 million five-year contract to "provide assistance" in immigration detention centers and had made millions of dollars transporting children around the Southwest. 

Reveal reporters confirmed that according to the lease, "the building is not allowed to be used for sleeping or cooking and can be used only for 'general business office purposes.'"

When the journalists approached MVM the corporation denied housing any children in detention centers.

MVM amended its story, however, after being told about the neighbor's video, saying the building was "a temporary holding place" but not specifying how long children had been held there.

Trump critics have denounced the secrecy surrounding the separation and detention of families in recent weeks, with New York Democratic House candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calling the immigration operations taking place at the border and all over the country a "black-box detention system."

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) condemned the "perverse secrecy of child separation" last week after being barred from visiting a child who had been taken away from her family and was being held in Connecticut.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) was able to tour a facility in Arizona on Friday after waiting a month for his visit to be approved, but said the facility's rule against visitors interacting with children and taking photos "raises more questions and the believability factor goes down" regarding the children's wellbeing.

"This level of paranoia and secrecy does not help the cause," Grijalva told Arizona Republic.

Nearly 3,000 children are still separated from their parents, and a federal judge on Friday denied Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar's request to extend a July 10 deadline for returning children under five to their families and a July 26 deadline for reuniting all families that the Trump administration forcibly separated.


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