LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A border battle has been quietly going on in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, and immigration rights advocates claim the Trump administration has been using the public health crisis to either block or send back tens of thousands of migrants.

“I think the administration believes they found the silver bullet in the pandemic, and that they can end all asylum now on the pretext that it’s necessary for COVID,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director with the ACLU national immigrants right project, said.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than 100,000 migrants — including children — have been expelled from the U.S. since March.

“What they said is, ‘Anybody now coming to the U.S. who doesn’t have documents, but is seeking to apply for asylum — including little children — will no longer be able to apply, and they’ll be expelled without any hearings,” Gelernt said.

And according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, hotels are sometimes used as temporary housing for migrants, but according to a report from the New York Times, more hotels — including big chains — have been working with the agency due to a spike in expulsions during the pandemic.

“We’re still trying to find out where all the hotels are, and how many children are being held because everything is being done in secret, Gelernt said.

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The Best Western Plus Dragon Gate Inn in Los Angeles’ Chinatown was named in the Times article as one that was holding migrants awaiting expulsion, but the hotel denied the accusation.

And Hilton last month released a statement denouncing the practice after it confirmed that a franchise location in McAllen, Texas had a contract with a private company working on behalf of ICE.

Advocates said that because the practice is done on private property — with a private security company — it creates a shadow immigration system.

“Who is actually watching over these children, some of them are very small, and what danger are they in from who’s supervising them,” Gelernt said. “And, also, the secrecy so that lawyers can’t get to them.”

ICE said that it was not able to comment on the details of the practice due to pending litigation, but confirmed that it does use hotels to temporarily house migrants and further said that MVM, the company it contracts with, was trained to keep minors safe.

In light of the Times report, L.A. City Councilman Gil Cedillo Tuesday introduced a motion to prohibit hotels in the city from holding migrant children and families who have been detained by private security companies for being in the country without documentation.

“This is yet another reason why elections matter,” Cedillo said. “We must keep our eyes on the prize, vote and get others to vote to remove President [Donald] Trump and [elect] a new Senate majority that will finally vote and pass immigration reform. This insidious treatment of children and their families is not acceptable.”

Cedillo’s motion, which will be heard by the Planning and Land Use Management Committee before moving to the full council, would direct city staff to draft an ordinance prohibiting and suspending any certificate of occupancy for any hotel in the city being used to house and detain migrant children and families under the direction of private security companies.

Other hotels named in the article include Quality Suites in San Diego; Hampton Inn locations in Phoenix, Arizona, and McAllen and El Paso, Texas; a Comfort Suites hotel in Miami; and an Econo Lodge in Seattle.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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