Journalist sues ICE to shed light on contractor that held migrant children in Phoenix offices

Lianna Dunlap started seeing white vans filled with immigrant children pulling up to the vacant office building behind her house June 4. The next day, she videotaped more children being led into the building./CREDIT- AURA BOGADO/REVEAL
By Laura Gomez | Arizona Mirror

The Center for Investigative Reporting and journalist Aura Bogado sued the federal government this week to obtain a contract with a company that held migrant children overnight in an commercial office building in Phoenix.

In November (after a July records request was inexplicably closed), Bogado requested through the Freedom of Information Act the contract between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and MVM Inc., a company that tasked with transporting migrant children from border facilities to licensed shelters, Bogado wrote.

Bogado’s reporting uncovered in July that MVM held migrant children, in some cases overnight, at an office building in midtown Phoenix that was only intended to be a waiting area. Reveal, the news site and radio show published by CIR, also reported on a second MVM-leased officewhere a building tenant had seen children bathing a bathroom sink.

The lawsuit asks for the court to find ICE violated federal FOIA law and require it to release the records and pay for litigation costs. Obtaining the MVM contract, Bogado wrote, is part of the news outlet’s job of investigating and holding government accountable.

The contract we’ve been seeking for nearly eight months involves MVM, a company that held children like Wilson, who was forcibly separated from his mother. We continue to investigate the practice and the fallout from child separations – and getting our hands on a copy of the ICE-MVM contract is part of that investigation.

Some of what we’d like to know includes what obligations MVM has to ICE and to children in its custody. We’d also like to verify ICE’s claim that MVM is contractually authorized to use their “office spaces as waiting areas for minors.” And we’d like to find out whether the contract spells out possible consequences when a contract is broken, as appears to have happened when MVM held children overnight in its unlicensed Phoenix office.

MVM has received $248 million in government contracts since 2014, according to the complaint.

Reveal’s reporting prompted by local politicians to denounce MVM and called for investigations into their treatment of children and operations. Among the elected officials were then-Phoenix councilwoman Kate Gallego and U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix.

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February 2019