Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A report by Reveal shows the more than a dozen children have been held in secret facilities by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, unbeknowst to their attorneys—in violation of U.S. law. (Photo: AP)

Black Sites for Kids: Rights Advocates Outraged Over Child Immigrants Being Held at 'Off-the-Books' Detention Facilities

"Good lord."

Julia Conley

Immigrant rights advocates were horrified Tuesday by a new report which confirmed that the Trump administration is sending some immigrant children to clandestine facilities that are not known to their families and lawyers and are not equipped to provide care to vulnerable minors.

An investigation by Reveal on Monday showed that at least 16 young immigrants—as young as nine years old and in need of mental or behavioral health treatment—have been sent by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to "off-the-books" facilities outside the network of federally-funded detention centers. The administration is housing immigrant children with an even greater degree of secrecy than was previously known, in violation of U.S. law.

"ORR needs to provide answers immediately about where they are holding asylum-seeking children, and what, if any, child welfare regulations those facilities are meeting." —Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)

At least one facility—Rolling Hills Hospital in Ada, Oklahoma—has a history of patient abuse.

The Flores settlement of 1997 requires that minors are held in U.S. custody for no more than 20 days and demands that the federal government share with a child's attorney the minor's whereabouts and release him or her to a sponsor as soon as possible—two stipulations that the ORR has blatantly flouted with its use of secret facilities.

"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 unaccompanied minors in a class action lawsuit, told Reveal.

Reveal's report was met with shocked reactions from rights groups and other critics on social media.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who has vocally opposed the administration's secretive immigration policy and introduced a bill that would guarantee lawmakers open access to detention centers for immigrant children, called Reveal's report "incredibly disturbing."

In addition to Rolling Hills Hospital, children have been sent to secret centers in Arkansas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Néstor Dubón, whose 16-year-old cousin has been in U.S. custody for two years, told Reveal that ORR did not disclose where it was sending his cousin when he was transferred from a federal detention center in Virginia. The government told Dubón that his cousin would be held in Arkansas, but didn't say he was being sent to a privately-run facility, Millcreek Behavioral Center.

Dubón said he has complied with government rules in order to take custody of his cousin, to no avail.

"I've given my fingerprints three times—three times!" Dubón told Reveal. "I've obtained and shared birth certificates and powers of attorney from Honduras and for what? He's still there."

In addition to grave concerns over the record of Rolling Hills Hospital—where a recent investigation showed patients have suffered broken bones and alleged sexual harassment and that the hospital has not reported deaths to the state—other facilities have not been contracted by the government to provide mental healthcare.

"ORR needs to provide answers immediately about where they are holding asylum-seeking children, and what, if any, child welfare regulations those facilities are meeting," Merkley said.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Biden Drilling Report Blasted as 'Shocking Capitulation to the Needs of Corporate Polluters'

"Greenlighting more fossil fuel extraction, then pretending it's OK by nudging up royalty rates, is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic," said one campaigner.

Jessica Corbett ·


UNESCO Members Adopt First Global AI Ethics Agreement 'To Benefit Humanity'

"We're at a critical juncture in history," said Ethics in Tech founder Vahid Razavi. "We need as humans to come together and decide what is the best course of action to take with these technologies before they surpass us in their abilities."

Brett Wilkins ·


Progressive US Lawmakers Mark Black Friday With Calls to Pass the PRO Act

"The right to organize, fight for better working conditions, and fair pay must always be protected."

Jessica Corbett ·


'We Are Fighting Back': Global Black Friday Strikes and Protests Seek to #MakeAmazonPay

"We are workers and activists divided by geography and our role in the global economy but united in our commitment to Make Amazon Pay fair wages, its taxes, and for its impact on the planet."

Kenny Stancil ·


'It Was Entirely Avoidable': Rich Countries Blamed as New Covid Variant Sparks Global Alarm

"Allowing new variants to emerge and spread, 13 months into the vaccine era, is a policy choice by the rich world."

Jake Johnson ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo