Immigration

Defense contractor ends its lease of Phoenix building where it held immigrant children

MVM Inc.’s central Phoenix office is separated from its residential neighbors by a low wall. With her cell phone, neighbor Lianna Dunlap filmed children entering the office in early June but says she didn’t see any leave until three weeks later. Credit: Aura Bogado/Reveal

Less than a week after Reveal broke the story that contractor MVM Inc. was detaining immigrant children in an unmarked office building in Phoenix, the company has terminated its lease on the property.

The news was announced by Phoenix City Councilwoman Kate Gallego at a press conference outside the MVM office Thursday. On Monday, Gallego had joined other policymakers to call for inspections of the building after Reveal posted cellphone video footage shot by a neighbor showing dozens of children being ushered into the MVM office.

After initially denying the children were there more than a few hours, MVM acknowledged Wednesday that it had kept some overnight in violation of its own policies, its lease and its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The building had only a few bathrooms and no shower or kitchen facilities, even though local police said they were told that at least 90 children were there during a service call to the premises in late May.

In a news release today, Gallego said that government inspectors dispatched to check on the office in the last few days were not able to enter the property to conduct an inspection.

Neighbor Kristen Brown said she was thrilled that the public became so upset and angry about the situation. But she wondered whether MVM terminating its lease in Phoenix would mean it would start the practice at a different location.

“We should be scared for the safety of those kids,” Brown said. “Something like this should never happen in the first place.”

MVM, a defense contractor with CIA ties, had initially maintained it didn’t provide shelter or housing to children, calling the office building a “temporary holding space” for children it transports under a lucrative federal contract.

Gallego said its admission to the contrary this week indicated it had violated city code. She also publicly thanked Lianna Dunlap, the next door neighbor who took the cellphone video of children entering the MVM office.  

Gallego turned part of her focus to the federal immigration agency. “It is clear that ICE does not have an adequate plan for taking care of children,” she said in her statement.

“It is irresponsible for them to have contractors keep children under their supervision at office buildings not properly retrofitted for the care of children. I am concerned this mistreatment of children will happen elsewhere in our city.”

ICE originally told Reveal that MVM’s offices were “not overnight housing facilities, per contract with ICE.” On Wednesday, after MVM had already acknowledged that the Phoenix office housed children overnight, spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea wrote in an email: “as my previous statement made clear the contract with ICE does not allow for children to be in these facilities more than 24 hours. We are looking into whether that happened and under what circumstances.”

Elzea has not responded since.

Aura Bogado can be reached abogado@revealnews.orgFollow her on Twitter: @aurabogado.

To send information about immigration issues to Reveal, email border@revealnews.org.

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