Separating refugee and immigrant children from their parents isn’t just an emotionally wrenching policy. It’s an enterprise that is benefitting intelligence and defense contractors.
Those contractors—including one with a history of scandals—have advertised a flurry of jobs in recent weeks to support the infrastructure surrounding undocumented children whom the Trump administration has taken from their families.
One of them, from Virginia-based MVM Inc., seeks a compliance coordinator to help in San Antonio with the “rapid deployment of an Emergency Influx Shelter for unaccompanied children.” As billed, the coordinator would ensure the children’s shelter met “policies and procedures” set by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. MVM posted the job on its website this week.
MVM appears to believe its business is growing. A job posting on Indeed.com from 20 days ago advertises for youth care workers “in anticipation of a contract award.”
Matthew Kolken, an immigration attorney who frequently represents undocumented children, told The Daily Beast he’s deeply concerned about these contractors’ child care work.
“I’m guessing that in their mission statement, one of the central components isn’t the care of refugee children,” he said. “It is mind-blowing that those types of industries would be even considered with respect to the care of children. They’re not equipped to be able to do it. Would you want your child to be dropped off in their hands? I know I wouldn’t.”
Because of a new Justice Department zero-tolerance policy toward people entering the country illegally, parents caught bringing their children to the United States—including those seeking asylum—are automatically arrested and detained pending immigration court proceedings. Previously, some parents were let out on bond, often with ankle monitors. Hundreds and hundreds of children have been separated from their newly detained parents since the policy change. The children enter the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. ORR puts the children in shelters or foster care. This is where the contractors come in: to help ORR with the logistics of caring for these children. The shelters that house children appear to be operating above capacity.
A child-advocate contract in pre-solicitation from ORR on June 1 bluntly described the “traumatic situations” undocumented children separated from their families have survived in their home countries. Many such children experienced “dire poverty, war, forced military or gang recruitment, human trafficking, domestic violence, abuse, familial separation and government neglect.” These include “very young” children, mostly with minimal education, and after “apprehension by DHS [the Department of Homeland Security] and transfer to ORR, these children face a complicated legal system.”
The contract seeks companies that can develop child-advocacy programs to serve “a minimum of 550 minors” in Brownsville, San Antonio, Houston, Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and the New York and D.C. metro areas.
MVM bills itself as having “extensive domain expertise in counter-narcotics, criminal and civil investigations, public safety, and national security.” It’s perhaps better known as a security contractor for U.S. intelligence.
In 2008, MVM lost a lucrative contract with the Central Intelligence Agency in Iraq for, The Wall Street Journal reported, “failing to provide enough armed guards.” It also faced internal allegations that its guards in Iraq, who worked for both the CIA and the National Security Agency, “were procuring and possessing unauthorized weapons and explosives,” according to a since-dismissed lawsuit from an Army Special Forces veteran employee who unsuccessfully claimed wrongful termination after blowing the whistle.
More recently, in July 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued MVM after finding that the firm retaliated against one of its security guards, a practicing Muslim, by forcing him to shave his beard after he reported a supervisor called him a “n**ga.” The company settled the case months later for $135,000. And it hasn’t been the only recent example of what the EEOC has considered discrimination.
Joe Arabit, the director of MVM’s homeland security and public safety division, told The Daily Beast that its contracts “are unrelated to the examples you raise. And, I’d point out that the recent allegations you mention of discrimination and harassment have been found through investigations and arbitration to be without merit. MVM, Inc. prides itself on being an inclusive company that creates a welcoming and diverse workplace.”
Asked if it was appropriate for security and intelligence firm like MVM to be responsible for children in vulnerable circumstances, Arabit replied: “MVM, Inc.’s top priority is the welfare of children while they are in our care. We are a trusted partner of ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and ORR because of the respect and dedication with which we treat those whom we transport. Managing the transportation, security, and shelter needs of these children is a highly sensitive matter, and the safety of those in our care is the most important thing. Per our contract, we are limited in what information we can share.”
The ORR compliance officer, MVM advertises, ought to be someone who “loves the challenge of finding creative solution for dynamic, complex issues.” MVM wants a subject-matter expert familiar with “a variety of government policies that affect the children that are in shelter care.”
Another San Antonio-based MVM job, posted on LinkedIn three weeks ago, seeks a bilingual “transport specialist” with “compassion for children.” The position will accompany “unaccompanied minors of all age groups… via domestic flights and/or ground transportation to select government facilities.” On such trips, the specialist, who must speak both Spanish and English, will “communicate with children and teens in a way that is culturally-sensitive, while fostering a safe and humane environment.” The part-time job is billed to holders of security clearances for unspecified reasons that Arabit said were determined by the government.
Recent MVM postings indicate employment opportunities for similar traveling youth-care workers in Phoenix (“be honest, act with integrity, and keep the conversation focused on helping and nurturing children”) and McAllen, Texas—where U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley recently visited an asylum center owing to his “significant concern about children being separated from their families when their families are seeking asylum.”
Federal Contracting databases show MVM was awarded a contract worth up to $8 million over the next five years. The contract, kicked off in September 2017, calls for the company to provide assistance in emergency shelter operations for unaccompanied children and extends through September 2022.
In addition to MVM’s work with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), it also has contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement for transporting unaccompanied undocumented children around McAllen. According to a contractor database, the work has earned MVM nearly $43 million since last September.
Arabit didn’t quantify the dollar amount of ICE and ORR’s contracts specifically. He said MVM held “multimillion-dollar contracts” providing for “multiple forms of transportation, food, shelter, clothing, and other expenses related to managing these ICE and ORR programs.”
The company has been contracted with ICE for its transportation services for unaccompanied immigrant children since 2014, Arabit said, and for ORR’s “temporary shelter services for unaccompanied children since 2017.”
It’s not just MVM. The defense contracting giant General Dynamics is advertising a data-entry position within ORR’s case-coordination program for undocumented children that will, among other things, monitor youths’ cases as they move through the system. Other General Dynamics jobs for ORR involve policy analysis; tracking “new placements and progress of minors in ORR funded care”; supporting ORR’s director in, among other tasks, “review[ing] files and redact[ing] information as directed.”
“It looks right now that the Trump administration’s policies regarding immigration is proving to be a relatively lucrative area for private contractors,” said Neil Gordon, an investigator with the Project on Government Oversight who maintains a contractor-misconduct database, though he wasn’t able to quantify the surge.
“I’m concerned with these companies’ track records. Have they been properly thoroughly vetted to ensure their performance histories are relatively satisfactory? Do they have recent cases of misconduct levied against them, any sort of pending legal or enforcement matters concerning issues of misconduct?”
General Dynamics was the third largest federal contractor by dollar amount, with $15 billion in government contracts in fiscal 2017. According to Gordon’s database, it has faced $280.3 million in penalties for 23 misconduct cases since 1995. It has been contracting with the Office of Refugee Resettlement since 2010, as Reuters detailed. A General Dynamics representative referred The Daily Beast to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
A representative for HHS, which encompasses ORR, said the department was unable to respond by The Daily Beast’s deadline.
According to The New York Times, ORR’s warren of children’s shelters stretches to 100 in 17 states, with a heavy concentration in south Texas, serving over 11,000 children separated from their families.
—with additional reporting by Adam Rawnsley