Attorney Michael Avenatti representing migrant children held in Phoenix facilities

PHOENIX - High-profile attorney Michael Avenatti said on Thursday that he’s representing five migrant children who were separated from their families and are being held in Phoenix facilities.

“It’s inexcusable that these children have been shipped around the nation like cargo away from their parents,” he said.

He spoke to reporters outside a Southwest Key Programs facility near 27th Avenue and Indian School.

Avenatti was at the shelter to see a six-year-old boy named Samir, who was separated from his mother nearly three weeks ago when they crossed the border near Laredo, Texas. The two had spent three months migrating from Honduras in fear for their lives, Avenatti said. 

Avenatti delivered a personal letter to the boy from his mother. He said at first, Samir didn’t believe him.

“He’s been through a lot,” Avenatti said. “He hasn’t seen his mother or communicated with her for the better part of 18 days.”

Avenatti said he eventually “broke the ice” with Samir, who then drew a picture for his mother.

“His physical condition was fine,” he said. “I think the facility was well maintained. I thought the staff was very cooperative and trying to do the best they can to care for these children. But the fact remains that these children are better off with their parents and certainly shouldn’t be over 1000 miles away in an unknown place.”

It’s unclear how many migrant children are being housed in the Valley or how many facilities are housing them.

Avenatti said there were 128 children at the facility he visited with the “vast majority” separated from their families.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order this week ending his administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents detained by immigration officials. But that’s a forward-looking order and doesn’t affect those who have already been separated.

Avenatti criticized that order by saying it doesn’t do enough.

He also said he now represents about 60 migrant families who have been separated and has several clients who do not know where their children are being held and haven’t been able to speak with them.

“If you ask the government they can’t tell you where the children are. This is a disgrace. It has no place in the world, let alone in the United States. This is not our America,” he said.

Southwest Key Programs issued the following statement:

"Southwest Key Programs does not support separating families at the border. For 30 years, our work in offering youth justice alternatives, immigrant children's shelters, and education has served to improve the lives of thousands of young people. We believe keeping families together is better for the children, parents and our communities, and we remain committed to providing compassionate care and reunification. For every child who has come through our shelter doors, we start on day one to reunite them with their parents or a family sponsor and to provide the kind of service that will help them thrive. This has been our priority for decades."

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