Alejandro Mayorkas
Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
3801 Nebraska Ave. NW
Washington, D.C., 20016

Tae Johnson
Acting Director
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
500 12th St. SW
Washington, D.C., 20536
June 21, 2021

Dear Secretary Mayorkas and Acting Director Johnson,

The undersigned organizations write with concerns regarding U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) custody programs involving families arriving at the U.S. Southern border. In March, ICE signed a short-term no-bid contract[1] with Family Endeavors (“Endeavors”) for 1,239 hotel beds and other related services.[2] The Biden-Harris administration has also expanded an existing contract and signed a new one, worth a total of $136 million, with the controversial private security contractor MVM Inc.[3] We have serious concerns regarding the manner in which these programs are being implemented and the lack of transparency surrounding the contracts.

We call on the Biden-Harris administration to move away from ICE’s reliance on hotels and invest in the creation of NGO-run post-release Border Reception and Welcome Centers, where asylum seekers can receive voluntary respite and social support services, COVID-19 testing as needed along with an orientation to the asylum system and assistance with securing safe transportation to their final destination.[4] We also request that you provide information clarifying the nature of ICE’s contracts with MVM and Endeavors, and on any other programs involving ICE’s use of hotels to detain and/or process families currently in place or under negotiation.[5]

We understand and appreciate that the administration is working to receive a significant number of families arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.[6] We also understand that Endeavors is holding families apprehended at the border in different locations, supplying COVID-19 testing, support with medical care, food, and assistance with onward transportation.[7] However, the operations on the ground have raised serious concerns regarding the treatment and lack of freedom of movement of those held in ICE custody under the Endeavors program. We are also alarmed to see numbers of active COVID-19 cases rising in hotels used by Endeavors.[8]

To date we have not heard any evidence as to why Endeavors was contracted when local NGO service providers who have for years provided services to support those seeking at the border are willing and able to scale up their services.[9] Moreover, in some regions, Endeavors has released families to community-based shelters before completing their quarantine to avoid holding people in ICE custody longer than 72-hours, placing the burden on local NGOs while at the same time diverting resources away from local shelters with proven track records and community trust. Unlike community-based shelters, the Endeavors hotel program appears to operate as a custodial model, where people do not have the freedom to leave their rooms or facilities, and do not have full access to legal services. Rather than extend ICE custody, which both presents excessive costs and risks under this pandemic and beyond, we urge the government to release families to shelters where they will safely receive the services they need.

In addition to ongoing questions around ICE’s contract with Family Endeavors, it is particularly alarming that this administration has paid out millions to renew contracts with the military contracting company MVM inc, and quietly entered into a new agreement for the transport of migrant children and families.[10] Using a military contractor to transport migrants arriving at the border has inflicted irreversible harm and trauma on children.[11]

We call on the Biden-Harris administration to immediately engage in greater transparency with regards to the border management and processing programs, and to turn to the trusted local NGOs who stand ready to assist with supporting those released from the border instead of hoteling them.[12] Border reception and welcoming centers should be funded and operated outside of ICE and CBP, with trusted community-based nonprofit organizations providing contracted services. Existing border shelter networks provide vital care for asylum seekers arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, and have the capacity to provide more services for far less than what is allocated towards Endeavors and MVM contracts.[13] Critically, such programs must be established in consultation with border communities and use a trauma-informed approach.

We look forward to hearing your response. If you have any questions, please contact: Manoj Govindaiah, RAICES (manoj.govindaiah@raicestexas.org); Setareh Ghandehari, Detention Watch Network (sghandehari@detentionwatchnetwork.org); Laura St. John, Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project (lstjohn@firrp.org), Jorge Loweree, American Immigration Council, (JLoweree@immcouncil.org); and Jesse Franzblau, National Immigrant Justice Center, (jfranzblau@heartlandalliance.org).

Sincerely,

Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention (AVID) in the Chihuahuan Desert

Al Otro Lado

Aldea – The People’s Justice Center

Alianza Americas

America’s Voice

American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

American Gateways

American Immigration Lawyers Association

Arizona Jews for Justice

Asista

Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP)

Austin Border Relief

AZ Hispanic Community Forum

Bellevue Program for Survivors of Torture

Bishop Enrique San Pedro Ozana

Bishop, United Methodist Church, Desert Southwest Conference

Black Mountain United Church of Christ

BORDER ANGELS

Bridges Faith Initiative

Casas Adobes Congregational UCC

Catholic Charities (Santa Fe)

Catholic Charities of Gallup, Inc.

Catholic Charities of Southern New Mexico

Catholic Coalition for Migrant Justice

Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona dba Casa Alitas Program

Center for Gender & Refugee Studies

Center for Victims of Torture

Centro Legal de la Raza

Colores United

Council on American Islamic-Relations – San Diego

Detention Watch Network

Doctors For Camp Closure

ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)

ELCA AMMPARO

Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project

Faith in Public Life Action

First Church United Church of Christ

Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project

Freedom For Immigrants

Galilee Center

Good Neighbor Settlement House

Government Accountability Project

Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative

Human Rights First

Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

Immigrant Action Alliance

Immigrant Defenders Law Center

Immigrant Justice Idaho

Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project

Immigration Advocates Network

Immigration Ministry of St Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church, Albuquerque, NM

Immigration Task Force, United Church of Santa Fe

International Rescue Committee

Jewish Activists for Immigration Justice of Western MA

Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix

Jewish Family Service of San Diego

Jewish History Museum and Holocaust History Center of Tucson

JFCS of Southern Arizona

Justice Action Center

Ktizo UCC Church

La Posada Providencia

Latin America Working Group (LAWG)

Lawyers for Good Government, Project Corazon

Legal Aid Justice Center

Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention

Mabel Center for Immigrant Justice

Maryland Against ICE Detention

Maryland Legislative Coalition

Minnesota Interfaith Coalition on Immigration

National Association of Social Workers

National Association of Social Workers, Arizona

National Council of Jewish Women Arizona

National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC)

National Immigration Law Center (NILC)

National Immigration Project (NIPNLG)

National Lawyers Guild of Los Angeles

National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

NorCal Resist

Oro Valley United Church of Christ

Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition

Project Corazon, Lawyers for Good Government

Proyecto Dilley

Rainbow Bridge Asylum Seekers

Refugee Aid

Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)

Refugees International

San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium

Sanctuary DMV

Scottsdale Congregational United Church of Christ

Sister of Mercy

Sisters of the Holy Spirit

Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate

Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Southern Border Communities Coalition

Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ

Survivors of Torture, International

Takoma Park Mobilization – Equal Justice Committee

Taos United Community Church (UCC)

Taylor Levy Law

The Good Shepherd United Church of Christ

The Green Valley/Sahuarita Samaritans

Torture Abolition And Survivors Support Coalition International

Transformations CDC

Uncage & Reunite Families Coalition

UndocuBlack Network

United Church of Christ

United Church of Santa Fe

United Churches Fellowship UCC, Nogales, AZ

Washington Office on Latin America

Women’s Refugee Commission

[1] United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “Statement attributable to ICE Acting Director Tae D. Johnson,” March 20, 2021, https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/statement-attributable-ice-acting-director-tae-djohnson.

[2] The period of performance goes from March 16, 2021 through September 20, 2021, with a bed rate of $352.64 per day. See U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Contract Award Number 70CDCR2100000001, Emergency Family Reception Sites, published April 7, 2021, https://beta.sam.gov/opp/344bbe2d8fdd48dd9a0d5c5cfe206cde/view?keywords=&sort=modifiedDate&index=&is_active=true&page=1&date_filter_index=0&inactive_filter_values=false&organization_id=100012075.

[3] Felipe De La Hoz, “Biden Showers Cash on ex-CIA Contractor MVM to Transfer Migrants,” The Daily Beast, May 3, 2021, https://www.thedailybeast.com/biden-showers-cash-on-ex-cia-contractor-mvm-inc-to-transfermigrants?source=articles&via=rss. The prior administration contracted with MVM as part of its shadow system that involved detaining migrant children and families in hotels before quickly deporting them, bypassing the normal process that is required to give children a chance to seek asylum in the U.S. See, i.e., Caitlin Dickerson, “A Private Security Company Is Detaining Migrant Children at Hotels,” New York Times, October 21, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/16/us/migrant-children-hotels-coronavirus.html.

[4] See, i.e, UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency, “Border Shelter Toolkit: Best Practices in Sheltering Asylum-Seeking Families at the U.S. Southern Border,” February 2021, https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/601b7c804.pdf.

[5] The DHS Office of the Inspector General has announced an investigation into ICE’s plans to house migrant families in hotels, and how ICE selected a contractor to implement these plans. See U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General (OIG), ‘“ICE’s Contract to House Migrants in Hotels,” (May 2021), https://www.oig.dhs.gov/node/6352.

[6] The ICE-Endeavors contract justification indicates that Endeavors is overseeing what DHS calls “emergency family reception sites” in Texas and Arizona. See U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Contract Award Number 70CDCR2100000001, Emergency Family Reception Sites, published April 7, 2021, https://beta.sam.gov/opp/344bbe2d8fdd48dd9a0d5c5cfe206cde/view?keywords=&sort=modifiedDate&index=&is_active=true&page=1&date_filter_index=0&inactive_filter_values=false&organization_id=100012075. See also Ted Hesson and Kristina Cooke, “U.S. to Place Some Migrant Families in Hotels in Move Away From Detention Centers,” U.S. News, March 20, 2021, https://www.usnews.com/news/topnews/articles/2021-03-20/us-to-place-some-migrant-families-in-hotels-in-move-away-from-detention-centers.

[7] See Ted Hesson and Kristina Cooke, “U.S. to Place Some Migrant Families in Hotels in Move Away From Detention Centers,” U.S. News, March 20, 2021, https://www.usnews.com/news/top-news/articles/2021-03-20/usto-place-some-migrant-families-in-hotels-in-move-away-from-detention-centers.

[8] ICE Guidance on COVID-19, “COVID-19 ICE Detainee Statistics by Facility,” [last visited June 10, 2021] https://www.ice.gov/coronavirus.

[9] 117th U.S. Congress. House Committee on Appropriations, Department of Homeland Security Subcommittee. “Department of Homeland Security Resource Management and Operational Priorities” May 26, 2021, https://appropriations.house.gov/events/hearings/department-of-homeland-security-resource-management-andoperational-priorities.

[10] Felipe De La Hoz, “Biden Showers Cash on ex-CIA Contractor MVM to Transfer Migrants,” The Daily Beast, May 3, 2021, https://www.thedailybeast.com/biden-showers-cash-on-ex-cia-contractor-mvm-inc-to-transfermigrants?source=articles&via=rss.

[11] See Dominic Anthony Walsh and Reynaldo Leaños Jr., “Migrants Are Being Held In Hotels And Then Expelled Without Access To Attorneys,” Texas Public Radio, July 23, 2020, https://www.tpr.org/border-immigration/2020-07-23/migrants-are-being-held-in-hotels-and-then-expelled-without-access-to-attorneys. See also, Vanessa Swales, “ICE gave $185 million deal to defense contractor under investigation for housing kids in office,” Reveal News, October 15, 2018, https://revealnews.org/article/ice-gave-185-million-deal-to-defense-contractor-underinvestigation-for-housing-kids-in-office.

[12] The Request for Information (RFI) published by DHS on June 2, 2021 appears to acknowledge concerns raised by border organizations about the failure to investigate existing resources prior to entering on the Endeavors contract. However, the initial timeline on the RFI was fairly ill-suited to obtain meaningful interaction from a diverse group of border humanitarian aid organizations. See U.S. Department of Homeland Security, RFI: Emergency FamilyStaging Centers, June 2, 2021, https://sam.gov/opp/c370ac9d8c4c486ead7d7b6f5cd47b2e/view.

[13] See, i.e., Church World Services, “Border Shelter Network and Call Center,” https://cwsglobal.org/ourwork/north-america/border-shelter-network-and-call-center.