The Homeland Security Department not only put illegal immigrant families in hotels at taxpayer expense but the contract it signed also insisted that they be given five-star treatment with laundry service, mattress choices and guards — not to keep them in, but to keep others out.
Some of those contracting details were revealed by America First Legal, a conservative group run by former top Trump aides, which obtained documents through an open-records request and called some of the accommodations for illegal immigrants “astounding.”
Immigrants were given the option of meat at every meal, 24-hour access to drinks and snacks, babysitters to watch their children, television with programming in English and Spanish, and choices of mattresses for their beds.
The hotels were part of the Biden administration’s response to the unprecedented surge of illegal immigrants that overwhelmed Homeland Security’s resources in early 2021.
The department used the hotels to house migrant families it was trying to process.
Family Endeavors Inc. won no-bid contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Health and Human Services despite having no experience with a contract of that size.
The contracts were awarded after the company hired Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, who had served as a senior ICE official overseeing treatment and then worked as a member of the Biden administration’s transition team after the 2020 election.
“We thought that it was important to make this information public so that the average citizen can see what the government is up to,” said Reed D. Rubinstein, senior counselor and director of investigations at America First Legal. “That’s where this contract is really helpful because it gives you a window — a small window, but a window nonetheless — into how the Biden administration is conducting itself.”
Hotels were used in El Paso, Pecos and Cotulla, Texas, and Chandler and Phoenix in Arizona.
Among the things Family Endeavors promised ICE in the contract was that it would never refer to the illegal immigrants it was detaining as “detainees” or “aliens” — even though they were, legally, both of those. The contracting document uses those legal terms repeatedly to refer to the immigrants.
ICE did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
America First Legal said the illegal immigrants seemed to get more consideration than Americans, including veterans. The organization pointed out that Texas and Arizona, where the hotels were commandeered, have nearly 40,000 homeless residents — including 3,000 veterans.
The group obtained more than 150 pages of documents from an open-records request, though it took more than a year for ICE to produce them.
The hotels reported in the documents were two Best Westerns, one Comfort Suites, one Wood Springs Suites, one Holiday Inn Express, one MicroHotel and one Hampton Inn.
Key details were redacted, including the prices paid for specific services. Even the room rates for the hotels are blocked out in the documents. Officials call it sensitive proprietary information.
What did emerge from the contract were efforts to ensure that illegal immigrants were made comfortable, had “unfettered” access to lawyers and were not disturbed by the general public.
The document specifically told Family Endeavors that it had no obligation to prevent the illegal immigrants from leaving the hotels — though it could try to impose unspecified “consequences” on those who did leave.
“Service provider shall provide security to ensure resident safety; but said security primary function [sic] is to ensure no unauthorized individuals enter the residential facility,” the contract said.
The contract said each migrant must be provided with at least a 4-inch-thick mattress. If that wasn’t to their liking, they could ask to double up with at least two 3-inch pads.
Meat had to be a part of all three daily meals. Kosher, halal and vegetarian meals also were available. All were delivered as room service.
The documents said migrants were to be instructed on the proper use of trash cans and “proper use of toilet tissue.”
ICE encountered problems over the past decade as the demographics of the illegal immigrant population shifted and newcomers were unfamiliar with U.S. plumbing’s ability to handle toilet paper. ICE detention facilities reported that soiled paper was strewn about cells after migrants found no trash cans or other means to dispose of the refuse.
Migrants were also to be instructed in the proper use of toothbrushes.
Mandatory roll call was banned. Instead, service employees were told to check in with the illegal immigrants a few times a day “in a manner approved by ICE.”
The hotels also provided a “suggestion box” to receive complaints.
Mr. Rubinstein said that decent treatment of migrants is a given but the Biden administration’s approach is part of the reason it has faced record border chaos.
“You can rest assured that tales of free television and so forth are making their way back to other countries and helping to stimulate immigration,” Mr. Rubinstein said.
ICE ended the hotel program early this year. In court documents, the agency said it had improved its catch-and-release program at the border enough that the hotel space was no longer needed.
While the hotels were in operation, advocates for illegal immigrant children complained that they couldn’t be sure all proper detention standards were met.
They also told a federal judge that they were worried the migrants would languish at the hotels rather than be released quickly under the terms of a legal settlement governing the treatment of illegal immigrant children.
The contract details track with other ICE agreements on how to handle illegal immigrant children and families.
The Washington Times has reported on the conditions at shelters for unaccompanied immigrant children, run by the Health and Human Services Department, and for detention facilities for families run by ICE.
The HHS shelters piped music deemed “sensitive to culture and preference” into the rooms of the children. Dietitians scrutinized the menus each day to make sure they included whole grains but not whole milk. Doctors and dentists treated the children, often delivering the first medical care of their lives.
Shelters also organized field trips for children.
ICE family facilities had soccer fields and volleyball courts, classrooms for children, computer labs and extensive cable television access.
The Obama administration expanded the use of family facilities. Officials at the time said they helped solve the first family migrant surge.
The Trump administration also used the facilities, but the Biden administration, bowing to pressure from immigrant rights activists, emptied the facilities of families and released them as quickly as possible.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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