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

By: - February 22, 2019 3:46 pm

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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 office where 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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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for education, immigration, political, and public safety reporting and Spanish-language news and feature reporting. Laura worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.