An attorney representing a Haitian family detained by ICE at a Texas hotel said immigration agents tried to stop her from communicating with her clients, who she fears will be quickly sent back to their home country.
Krystle Cartagena, a staff attorney with the immigrant advocacy organization RAICES representing the family of four, tried to speak with her clients on Tuesday but was told by a man she believes is an ICE agent not to call the hotel room. The phone inside the hotel room in San Antonio, Texas, was then disconnected.
"Everyone has due process rights, and part of that is access to counsel," Cartagena told BuzzFeed News. "That's what I tried to explain to the officer, and he just wasn't having it."
In a statement ICE said there are immigrants in custody at a hotel in San Antonio “awaiting travel” and maintained everyone has access to their legal counsel on file. The agency said that one person at the hotel recently tested positive for COVID-19, and has been isolated.
“Everyone at the hotel is seen daily by a medical professional,” ICE said.
Cartagena, who went to the hotel Tuesday night, said she was worried the family will be deported soon under measures enacted by the Trump administration since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Immigration officials have been immediately turning away thousands of people at the border using a March order issued by the CDC that prohibits the entry of those who cross into the country without authorization. The expulsions, the Trump administration said, were necessary to stop the spread of the coronavirus — and the rapid removals have alarmed immigrant advocates who said it has barred most immigrants from any legal process.
The CDC order allows Border Patrol agents to immediately turn away immigrants, including people trying to make an asylum claim in the US. Since March, about 43,000 immigrants have been expelled. In cases where the US can't immediately send an immigrant back to Mexico or Canada, immigration agents will detain them until they can be sent to their country of origin, according to Customs and Border Protection guidance.
Cartagena's account of the Haitian family's case highlights the difficulties attorneys now encounter in trying to represent immigrants facing immediate expulsions.
Cartagena said the family consists of a 36-year-old father, 40-year-old mother, and two children, ages 3 and 7.
On Wednesday morning, Cartagena was able to get the family's room number by posting notes against a window. One of the notes said they had been there for 22 days. Cartagena said the 3-year-old daughter was sick and had chest pain but hasn't been able to go to a hospital.
The family had expressed fear of being returned to the US–Mexico border, Cartagena said, but it appears they will be sent back to Haiti under the Trump administration's pandemic-related policy.
In the meantime, the family remains detained at a hotel owned by Hilton, Cartagena said. Last year, Hilton Hotels told the Skift, a travel site, that its hotels "are not designed to be used as detention centers, and we reject the idea of using them for this purpose.”
Hilton Hotels did not immediately respond to a request for comment. ICE said it has long used hotels to temporarily detain immigrants on an as needed basis.