MVM, a U.S. military and CIA contractor, reportedly leased a vacant office building in Phoenix, Arizona, to imprison immigrant children for the Trump administration (more video below).
This off-the-books “black site” has dark windows, no kitchen and only a few toilets, reports Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.
MVM has claimed that it does not operate “shelters or any other type of housing” for children.
However, Lianna Dunlap, a woman who lives near the 3,200-square-foot building, filmed children dressed in sweatsuits being led and carried in the building in June.
Dunlap recalled her discovery to Reveal:
There’s been times where I drive by and I just start crying because, you know, it’s right behind my house. I don’t know and I think that’s the worst part – not knowing what’s actually going on in there and just hoping that they’re OK.
MVM told Reveal that it does not operate housing for immigrant children, but then changed its story after learning about Dunlap’s video of the kids.
An MVM spokesperson said the building “is not a shelter or a child care facility,” but is “a temporary holding place” for children being flown out of the Phoenix airport to other locations.
The MVM spokesperson also claimed the building is intended to hold children for only a few hours before flights, but was unsure how long the kids are actually imprisoned in the building.
ICE spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea told Reveal that MVM “is authorized to use their office spaces as waiting areas for minors awaiting same-day transportation between U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody and U.S. Health and Human Services custody.”
Elzea added: “The offices are outfitted to provide minors awaiting same-day transport with a more comfortable and private atmosphere than they might otherwise have at a public transportation hub.”
However, neighbors have say that the children appear to have been confined in the building for weeks, and that there is a constant stream of supplies rolling into the building.
Reveal notes the building is not licensed by Arizona to hold children.
Chris Minnick, a spokesman for the Arizona Health Services Department, said licenses are required for any place “where children are unaccompanied by a parent or guardian on a regular basis for periods of less than 24 hours a day other than the child’s home.”
The MVM spokesperson would say if the building should be licensed as a child care center.
Phoenix police Sgt. Vince Lewis told Reveal that when police checked the building, “ICE confirmed that it (MVM) was contracted to perform that transport.”
MVM, a Virginia-based defense contractor that used to provide guards for CIA facilities in Iraq, has had contracts worth up to $248 million to transport immigrant children since 2014.
MVM President and CEO Kevin Marquez reportedly signed a five-year lease for the vacant building in Phoenix on March 9, only one month before U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” immigration policy in May.
According to the building’s lease, says the building is not allowed to be used for sleeping or cooking and can be used only for “general business office purposes.”
Tenants are not allowed to make “disturbing noises,” such as whistling and singing, that would “interfere with occupants of this or neighboring buildings.”
Reveal journalist Aura Bogado recalled how White House chief of staff John Kelly told NPR during a May interview: “The children will be taken care of – put into foster care or whatever.”:
Thanks, Amy. A few weeks ago, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said that the children who were being taken from their parents at the border would be placed in “foster care or whatever.”
Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting has been laser-focused on what that “whatever” means.
Although we don’t know for a fact that these children were indeed separated from their parents at the border, we believe that may be the case because, as you mentioned, some of the children are so young that they don’t look like they’re old enough to walk.
I know, from my many years as an immigration reporter, that children who do cross the desert or who do turn themselves in at a port of entry tend to be teenagers, sometimes preteens. We’ve never seen toddlers who are unaccompanied.
And so, for that reason, we believe that these children may have been separated from their parents. And now we have a better idea of what that “whatever” may mean.
In this case, a contractor, a private contractor with heavy ties to the CIA—in fact, it was founded by ex-CIA secret agents—had an office in which neighbors described dozens of children going in over the span of several weeks and never leaving until three weeks later.
We were able to obtain video of 32 of those children entering that facility. And this is in an unmarked, unmapped, unlicensed, largely vacant office building right there in Phoenix.
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