Private sector seeks to profit by detaining migrant kids

Private sector seeks to profit by detaining migrant kids

Sheltering migrant children has become a growing business for one Florida-based government contractor. More than 50 babies, toddlers and teens were closely watched on this day inside this clean, well-lit shelter surrounded by chain link fences. A joint investigation by the Associated Press and the PBS news program “Frontline” has found that the Trump administration has started to shift some of the caretaking of migrant children from mostly religious-based nonprofits to private, for-profit
contractors.

So far, the only private company caring for migrant children is CHS, owned by Washington,
D.C. area contractor Caliburn International Corp. In June, CHS held more than 20% of the migrant
children who are in government custody. And even as the overall number of children in U.S. custody
has declined, the federal funding for their care has continued to flow. That’s partly because CHS is still staffing a large Florida facility with 2,000 workers, even though the last children left in August.

Trump administration officials say that CHS is keeping the Florida shelter on standby and that they’re
focused on the quality of care contractors can provide, not about who profits from the work. “It’s not
something that sits with me morally as a problem,” said Jonathan Hayes, director of the Department
of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. “We’re not paying them more just
because they’re for-profit.” Trump’s Health secretary, Alex Azar, pushed back and said the findings
were “misleading.” But he did not address the government’s ongoing privatization of the care for
migrant children.

Former White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly was added to Caliburn’s board this spring after
stepping down from decades of government service. He had joined the Trump administration as
Homeland Security secretary and backed the idea of taking children from their parents at the border,
saying it would discourage people from trying to immigrate or seek asylum. Critics say this means
Kelly now stands to financially benefit from a policy he helped create. Houston Police Chief Art
Acevedo said that Kelly, a retired general, told him firsthand that he believed enforcing a
“zero-tolerance” policy would serve as a deterrent.

Former White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly was added to Caliburn’s board this spring after
stepping down from decades of government service. He had joined the Trump administration as
Homeland Security secretary and backed the idea of taking children from their parents at the border,
saying it would discourage people from trying to immigrate or seek asylum. Critics say this means
Kelly now stands to financially benefit from a policy he helped create. Houston Police Chief Art
Acevedo said that Kelly, a retired general, told him firsthand that he believed enforcing a
“zero-tolerance” policy would serve as a deterrent.

“What’s really the motivator, the deterrence or the dollar?” said Acevedo, who signed an Aug. 14 letter with dozens of other law enforcement leaders asking Trump to minimize the detention of children. “I would question that if he’s getting one dollar for that association.“Kelly did not respond to requests for comment. But in a statement, Caliburn’s president, Jim Van Dusen, said: “With four decades of military and humanitarian leadership, in-depth understanding of international affairs and knowledge of current economic drivers around the world, Gen. Kelly is a strong strategic addition to our team.”

Meanwhile, CHS was getting more business housing migrant children. Today it’s operating six
shelters, including three “tender age“ shelters that can house the youngest children — infants and
toddlers — in the Rio Grande Valley. The company also said it has plans to run another 500-bed
shelter in El Paso. “The United States is the country in the world that detains the most children for
immigration reasons, and probably for the longest period of time. No other country comes close,” said
Michael Bochenek, a Human Rights Watch attorney who serves on a United Nations research team
examining the global detention of children. “To have private companies move into the area of the care
and custody of children in detention-like settings is especially troubling.”

Although CHS is the first private company to provide shelter for migrant children, other private
companies have been providing other services relating to the care of migrant children for more than
five years. GEO Group, for example, runs several migrant family shelters. Defense contractor General Dynamics Information Technology, whose board includes Trump’s former Defense Secretary James N. Mattis, has contracts to review children’s case files and make sure they are reunited with their parents or placed in safe homes, often with other relatives. Intelligence contractor MVM Inc. holds contracts to transport migrant children by bus, van or airplane. Going forward, the government plans to hand over its own facilities for migrant children to private providers who would get paid to run
them. Site searches are underway to open shelters with about 500 beds each in Phoenix, Dallas-Fort
Worth, Houston and San Antonio, according to HHS spokesman Mark Weber.

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