The Trump administration has been paying an intelligence contractor millions of dollars to to fly immigrant children to shelters across the United States.
MVM, Inc. has a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to provide “unaccompanied alien children (UAC) transportation services” worth $162 million, according to records reviewed by The Daily Beast. MVM’s recent job postings show it sought to hire people to escort immigrant children from the border on commercial airlines. MVM is one of a number of defense contractors cashing in on the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy of locking up immigrant families.
The policy was implemented in early April, and soon after MVM posted several of job advertisements looking for employees to escort immigrant children in cities like Phoenix, San Antonio, and McAllen, Texas, home of the infamous “Ursula” facility seen in photographs of separated children housed in chain-link cages. In a posting for a “Bilingual Travel Youth Care Worker,” MVM sought escorts for “unaccompanied children and teens.” The job would entail “accompanying them on domestic flights and via ground transportation to shelters all over the country.”
After this piece initially ran, MVM through a proxy provided a statement saying the company’s leadership has removed job postings “related to readiness operations under the current zero tolerance policy” and hasn’t “pursued any new contracts” related to it since zero tolerance began.
“MVM has tremendous empathy for the families and children arriving at the U.S. border,” the statement said, in part. “While these children and families are in our care, our priority is ensuring they are safe and treated with dignity and compassion. We have been providing these transport services since 2014 and take pride in the level of care these children receive from our dedicated, professional staff,” the company’s homeland-security director said in a statement dated June 18.”
Job reviews for MVM “travel specialist” positions in McAllen posted shortly before the Trump administration took office offer more details about the work. In one review, an employee wrote that travel specialists for the company “would transport unaccompanied minors in a safe and humane manner in accordance with Transportation by Land or Air policies and procedures.”
On Indeed.com, some MVM travel specialists based in McAllen described their experiences in positive terms. The most upvoted review, however, claims that the job is “Very unpredictable. Management doesn’t care about their employees one bit. Work culture can use a serious overhaul.”
MVM said it has since removed the job postings: “MVM has not pursued any new contracts associated with undocumented families and children since the implementation of the current policy.”
Civil-rights advocates say that the Department of Homeland Security has shown a troubling lack of transparency in how it’s transporting immigrant children and that defense contractors are an inappropriate choice for handling the sensitive work.
“DHS and HHS have an obligation to be more transparent about the black box of children’s transportation and other service contracts with private companies: Congress should require them to provide information,” said Chris Rickard, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. “Administration officials, for example, have calculatedly evaded answering how Border Patrol agents and transport contractors actually separate children from their parents, whether they have trauma-informed training, and what if any oversight takes place of these repellent acts that traumatize children as young as babies.”
“It’s horrible, but not surprising, that military contractors which have profited from the deaths of innocent civilians around the world would be hired to transport little children from their parents,” said Wells Dixon, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “It’s further evidence that President Trump thinks he’s at war with immigrant families fleeing persecution, including babies. Someone has to pitch in to do his dirty work when ICE and DHS are overwhelmed with crying children.”
Vince Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, accused the company of profiting off pain.
“Let’s be clear, private contractors like MVM have only one goal: making money,” Warren said. “They are the only people high-fiving each other as more and more children are separated from their parents.”
MVM’s contract dates back to 2014, when a wave of children fleeing gang and cartel violence in Central America began arriving at the U.S. border in search of asylum.
Before it transported immigrant children for the government, MVM was better known as a contractor providing guards for CIA and NSA facilities in Iraq. A since-dismissed lawsuit by a former employee of the company alleged that staffers in Iraq were “procuring and possessing unauthorized weapons and explosives.”
The use of commercial airlines to ferry separated immigrant children around the country prompted has a backlash from the airline industry. In the past 48 hours, major airlines like American, Frontier, and United have all issued statements refusing to participate in Trump’s policy, earning them an angry rebuke from a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson who accused the companies of “buckling to a false media narrative.”
The spark for the feud came from a viral Facebook post shared by the friend of a flight attendant who claimed to have witnessed flights of separated kids. Under the Trump administration’s since-rescinded policy, the Department of Homeland Security and Office of Refugee Resettlement at Health and Human Services took children away from their parents at the border and flew them to shelters as far away as New York City and Detroit.
The flight attendant at the center of the post said she saw 16 immigrant children ranging from 6 to 11 years old “all dressed in black and gray cheap Walmart sweat suits” with “scared eyes looking straight forward dazed” on board a recent flight. The Arizona Star tracked down the flight in question, an American Airlines red-eye from Phoenix to Miami. Whether the children on board had been separated from their parents remains unclear.
In a statement, American Airlines said it didn’t know whether the government was using its flights to transport separated children but wrote that the company was against the separation policy and asked the government to refrain from using American flights to pursue it. “We have no desire to be associated with separating families, or worse, to profit from it,” American said.
Other airlines quickly followed. Frontier Airlines pledged that “we will not knowingly allow our flights to be used to transport migrant children away from their families,” while United tweeted a statement from CEO Oscar Munoz that separation “is in deep conflict with [United’s] mission and we want no part of it.”
As the public outcry grew, DHS spokesperson Tyler Q. Houlton blasted the airlines in a Twitter thread where he accused them of not wanting to “partner with the brave men and women of DHS to protect the traveling public, combat human trafficking, and to swiftly reunite unaccompanied illegal immigrant children with their families.” He wrote the airlines’ refusal to participate “puts more children at risk from traffickers.”
The contract that funds MVM’s unaccompanied-alien children transportation is slated to end in September 2019.