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Secret Facilities For Migrant Children


For some weeks now, lawyers, members of Congress and activists have been trying to figure out what's been happening to children separated from their parents at the southern U.S. border, things like where are they being held and whether the conditions are appropriate for children. Aura Bogado is a reporter at Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. She found out earlier this month that children were being transported by a U.S. defense contractor to a vacant office building in Phoenix, Ariz. One of the building's neighbors took a cellphone video of children being led inside.

She's with us now from the Reveal offices to tell us more. Aura Bogado, thanks so much for talking with us.

AURA BOGADO: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: Aura, tell me what it is that got the attention of your tipster. I understand from your report that the person was initially concerned that the kids were being trafficked. So just tell us a little bit about what this person saw that caused her to contact you.

BOGADO: So in early June, she saw a whole bunch of kids being led into this unmarked office building. It had been vacant for some time. And she was so freaked out about what she saw that that she texted her husband. I saw those texts, and she's saying to him, you know, something's - very weird is happening here. I think kids are being trafficked. And then, as the story of family separations starts to dominate the airwaves, she realizes these are probably the same kids.

I want to play a clip of Leanna Dunlap (ph), the neighbor who was our tipster and told us that this was happening. This is where she is describing what she saw and what really got her attention there.


LEANNA DUNLAP: They opened the van and out came the kids. And they were all walking in a line, and they just kind of shuffled them in there very quickly. And they were all dressed in the sweatpants and sweatshirt uniform, and they were carrying - I'm not sure. I think the first time I saw them, they were all carrying bags, trash bags of - it looked like - clothes. Some of them were carrying their shoes.

MARTIN: So do you know for a fact that the children seen entering and leaving these buildings are, in fact, children who are separated from their parents at the border?

BOGADO: We didn't know anything at first. I actually wondered, given the demographics of Phoenix, if they were possibly children that were - U.S. citizen children that were in some kind of juvenile hall transport. The more that we started digging into it, the more we found out.

First, we did confirm that they were indeed immigrant children. They were in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. At first, we didn't know whether or not the children had been separated. But I eventually was able to get a list of the children who had indeed been in there. And I confirmed that several of those children had indeed been separated from their parents. I know that because I also tracked down the parents and have been speaking to them from detention. And they have explained to me exactly how their children were taken from them.

MARTIN: And what else have you found out about what this group is or who this group is that was using this office building?

BOGADO: MVM is a large defense contractor. Over the last 30 years, they've been all over the world, Iraq, Afghanistan. They run a detention center in Guantanamo Bay. And they also transport children. They transport immigrant children for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

MARTIN: So tell me more about the conditions at this office building that you saw.

BOGADO: We don't know too much about what happened inside or exactly what it looks like. I was able to peer through the window. We saw an inflatable mattress. We saw a child's seat on the floor. We saw a box that was labeled baby shampoo, so some evidence that children had perhaps been there by that time.

MARTIN: So tell us, what's your takeaway from all this? I understand the tipster - one of the things that concerned her is that she got the sense of secrecy, that there was an - she felt that there was an attempt to be secretive.

BOGADO: I've been an immigration reporter for about a dozen years. And if somebody had told me two months ago you're going to find that children are spending the night in offices that don't even have kitchens or showers, I would've highly doubted it. But now, having seen that myself, I just want to learn more. I want to learn how many children were there, for how long they were there and under what exact conditions they were being held.

MARTIN: That's Aura Bogado. She covers immigration at Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. And she was kind enough to join us from the Reveal offices, which is in Emeryville, Calif. Aura Bogado, thanks so much for speaking with us.

BOGADO: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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