Strict rules in con­tracts to care for child il­le­gals

Feds pay mil­lions for ex­ten­sive ser­vices

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Want to bid for a con­tract to care for the il­le­gal im­mi­grant chil­dren com­ing across the bor­der? Make sure your staff mem­bers get Hep­ati­tis vac­cines and reg­u­lar TB tests and can speak for­eign lan­guages — prob­a­bly Span­ish but maybe Man­darin, sug­gest­ing a sur­pris­ing num­ber of the chil­dren are com­ing from China.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment guar­an­tees the chil­dren three meals a day, and they must take ac­count of health, re­li­gious ob­ser­vance or veg­e­tar­ian di­ets. The chil­dren also have a right to sec­ond help­ings, ac­cord­ing to con­tract doc­u­ments is­sued last month seek­ing a trans­porta­tion company to ferry the chil­dren within Texas.

Even though the surge of un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren has slowed, the gov­ern­ment is still is­su­ing mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar con­tracts to pro­vide care, trans­porta­tion, trans­la­tion and other ser­vices for the 66,000 who got through the bor­der over the past year and the thou­sands still en­ter­ing the coun­try each month.

The 150-page re­quest for trans­porta­tion pro­pos­als, posted on­line at gov­ern­ment con­trac­tor web­site fbo.gov, was is­sued by U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment to MVM Inc., a large se­cu­rity con­trac­tor founded by a for­mer Se­cret Ser­vice agent and based in Ash­burn, Vir­ginia.

MVM Vice Pres­i­dent Christo­pher McHale con­firmed in an email that his company did win the con­tract, which the web­site says is worth $192 mil­lion, but he de­clined to talk about any of the de­tails.

“MVM does not make pub­lic com­ments as to the op­er­a­tion of any gov­ern­ment con­tracts,” Mr. McHale said.

Over­all, the con­tract speaks to the ten­u­ous bal­ance be­tween so­cial worker and cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer that those deal­ing with the surge of chil­dren must strike. The chil­dren are not in crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings but are still some­times se­cu­rity risks. Be­cause they are not en­ti­tled to be in the U.S., there is al­ways the dan­ger of flight.

“The gov­ern­ment needs to be hon­est with the pub­lic about the num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als who have come across the bor­der who have been found ei­ther to have crim­i­nal records, gang con­nec­tions or suf­fi­ciently trou­bled to have to be placed in spe­cific fa­cil­i­ties de­signed for way­ward, delin­quent youths,” said Dan Cad­man, a fel­low at the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies, which sup­ports a crack­down on im­mi­gra­tion.

ICE agents and of­fi­cers won’t find any­thing sur­pris­ing in the con­tract. They deal with the same sit­u­a­tion ev­ery day as they try to strike a bal­ance be­tween law en­force­ment and the hu­man­i­tar­ian con­cerns placed upon them.

“This is re­ally very unique to us. No other law en­force­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion has to go to th­ese lengths with re­gard to the treat­ment of their pop­u­la­tion that they deal with. This is very unique to us at ICE,” said Chris Crane, pres­i­dent of the Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment Coun­cil, which rep­re­sents ICE agents and of­fi­cers.

One of the chal­lenges stressed by the con­tract is the lan­guage bar­rier. The chil­dren are mostly from Gu­atemala, Hon­duras and El Sal­vador, where Span­ish pre­dom­i­nates, though some of the chil­dren also speak in­dige­nous Mayan lan­guages.

But the doc­u­ments specif­i­cally list Man­darin as the third most prom­i­nent lan­guage, sug­gest­ing a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Chi­nese chil­dren must be ar­riv­ing as well.

“Con­trac­tor must pro­vide suf­fi­cient ac­cess to trans­la­tion,” the doc­u­ment or­ders.

ICE told po­ten­tial con­trac­tors it had a list of the top five lan­guages they should be pre­pared to han­dle, but the agency was un­able to pro­vide that list when queried by The Wash­ing­ton Times.

The con­tract doc­u­ments, how­ever, make clear how im­por­tant lan­guage is when deal­ing with un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren, or UAC, which is the gov­ern­ment’s of­fi­cial term for the chil­dren.

“Be­cause chil­dren dif­fer in com­pre­hen­sion lev­els, sim­ple lan­guage with the ap­pro­pri­ate tone is re­quired,” one doc­u­ment says. “The con­trac­tor shall al­ways be aware that UAC and fam­i­lies may be in­tim­i­dated by au­thor­ity fig­ures; there­fore, to avoid any con­fu­sion, the con­trac­tor should ex­plain to the UAC and fam­i­lies prior to the trans­port what to ex­pect dur­ing his/her trans­port.”

One in 200 of the chil­dren is es­ti­mated to have spe­cial needs, in­di­cat­ing some sort of dis­abil­ity.

At times, the con­tract reads like a celebrity’s agree­ment for an ap­pear­ance, with strict guide­lines on how the chil­dren are to be ad­dressed and guar­an­tees of snacks and sec­ond help­ings of food. Movies and video games must be pro­vided on trips over a cer­tain length of time.

But pep­pered through­out are re­minders of the po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion. The doc­u­ment con­tains re­peated re­minders that some of the chil­dren may be crim­i­nals, and goes into de­tail about sit­u­a­tions in which they may be put in hand­cuffs or other re­straints.

The con­tract doc­u­ment even de­tails what the “trans­porta­tion spe­cial­ist” should do in case of a riot or a hostage sit­u­a­tion: “Un­der no cir­cum­stance shall TS bar­gain with or take or­ders from a hostage taker(s), re­gard­less of the sta­tus or rank of the hostage.”

Also in­cluded in the con­tract was a list through Au­gust of the ci­ties where the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Depart­ment has fa­cil­i­ties to hold the chil­dren. It’s a list HHS of­fi­cials had been re­luc­tant to re­lease, cit­ing pri­vacy pro­tec­tions for the il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

Nearly 60 per­cent of the chil­dren ended up be­ing turned over to fa­cil­i­ties in Texas. Nearly 10 per­cent have been sent to Ari­zona, 8 per­cent to the Chicago area, 6 per­cent to Cal­i­for­nia, and the rest scat­tered through­out the coun­try.

The Times has re­quested de­tails through the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act of HHS con­tracts in­volv­ing the un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors, but has not re­ceived those records de­spite sev­eral months elaps­ing.

Ju­di­cial Watch, a con­ser­va­tive pub­lic in­ter­est law group, filed a com­plaint last week to try to make the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment com­ply with a sim­i­lar open­records re­quest for de­tails about another so­lic­i­ta­tion, is­sued in Jan­uary by ICE, that pro­jected a surge of 65,000 il­le­gal im­mi­grant chil­dren this year.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion seemed sur­prised by the surge in May and June and scram­bled to is­sue con­tracts worth hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars. But Tom Fit­ton, pres­i­dent of Ju­di­cial Watch, said the doc­u­ments they are seek­ing will show that’s false.

“Any no­tion that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is sur­prised or is not aware of the im­pact of its poli­cies and pro­nounce­ments caus­ing a wave of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion — this proves that that’s ab­so­lutely false,” he said.

Like The Times, Ju­di­cial Watch filed its re­quest months ago and ICE is well past the dead­lines set in the law for pro­vid­ing the in­for­ma­tion.

“With the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, we have to file law­suits just to get them to re­spond to our re­quest,” he said. “Any veil [the ad­min­is­tra­tion] had of be­ing in fa­vor of trans­parency is com­pletely dropped.”

“The gov­ern­ment needs to be hon­est with the pub­lic about the num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als who have come across the bor­der who have been found ei­ther to have crim­i­nal records, gang con­nec­tions or suf­fi­ciently trou­bled to have to be placed in spe­cific fa­cil­i­ties de­signed for way­ward, delin­quent youths.”

— Dan Cad­man, a fel­low at the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies, which sup­ports a crack­down on im­mi­gra­tion

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

De­tained im­mi­grant chil­dren line up in the cafe­te­ria at the Karnes County Res­i­den­tial Cen­ter, a tem­po­rary home for im­mi­grant women and chil­dren de­tained at the bor­der, in Karnes City, Texas. Even though the surge of un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren has slowed, the gov­ern­ment is still is­su­ing mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar con­tracts to pro­vide care, trans­porta­tion, trans­la­tion and other ser­vices.

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