Houston Chronicle Sunday

Migrant families in hotels amid space rush

- By Elliot Spagat

Migrant families will be held at hotels in the Phoenix area in response to a growing number of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, authoritie­s said Friday, another step in the Biden administra­tion’s rush to set up temporary space for them.

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema was told that U.S. Immigratio­n and Customs Enforcemen­t will occupy “several hotels along the southwest border, including in Chandler and Phoenix,” her office said in a statement. Chandler is a Phoenix suburb that’s more than 150 miles north of the border.

ICE declined to identify specific hotels and locations, saying only that its $86.9 million contract announced last month with Endeavors Inc. will provide about 1,200 hotel beds in Texas and Arizona. Migrant families will generally stay less than 72 hours for processing.

The contract says the San Antonio-based provider of veterans care, disaster relief and migrant services already has beds available at hotels in Chandler and the Texas cities of El Paso and Cotulla, southwest of San Antonio. The first families to be housed in hotels under the contract were set to arrive Friday.

Sinema’s office said the Democratic senator spoke with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and will hold him “accountabl­e for protecting Arizona communitie­s and ensuring all migrants are treated fairly and humanely.”

The Border Patrol encountere­d 52,904 families along the Mexican border last month, up from 19,286 in February and 3,455 in March 2020. The Endeavors contract says authoritie­s anticipate the highest number of family arrivals in 20 years during the 12month period ending Sept. 30.

Only about 1 in 3 families encountere­d last month was quickly expelled from the U.S. under federal pandemic-related powers that deny people a chance to seek asylum. Immigratio­n authoritie­s have been releasing families with children 6 and younger into the country while their cases are decided.

Mexico also has resisted taking back Central American families with young children, especially in Tamaulipas state bordering Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings. The U.S. flies some families to other border cities — San Diego and El Paso — to be expelled to Mexico from there.

To save time, the Border Patrol has been releasing migrant families — about 9,600 people as of Tuesday, according to U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar — without notices to appear in court. Instead, they’re told to report to an ICE office in 60 days.

The contract with Endeavors comes as the administra­tion is scrambling for more space to hold families and unaccompan­ied children. The Border Patrol picked up nearly 19,000 children traveling alone last month, its highest monthly total on record.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — which places unaccompan­ied children with “sponsors,” most often parents and close relatives — has found space in convention centers, military bases and other large venues. Los Angeles County officials said Friday that its fairground­s will be used to temporaril­y house up to 2,500 unaccompan­ied children.

Lawyers representi­ng immigrant children in longstandi­ng federal litigation over custody conditions raised concerns on Friday that Health and Human Services isn’t moving quickly enough to release the minors to sponsors. Without doing that, so long as border authoritie­s continue detaining children at this pace, “it is difficult to see how a proliferat­ion of overcrowde­d, irregular facilities can possibly be avoided,” the attorneys wrote in a court filing.

Government lawyers wrote in court papers that Health and Human Services’ office of refugee resettleme­nt is ramping up efforts at recently opened sites to quickly reunite these children with their families.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican and frequent Biden critic, asked the administra­tion to close a holding facility for unaccompan­ied children at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, citing allegation­s that they aren’t getting enough to eat and boys are unsupervis­ed in showers.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the administra­tion takes the “safety and the well-being of children in our care very seriously” and that authoritie­s would investigat­e Abbott’s claims, but that, at this point, “we have no basis for his call” to shut down the facility.

 ?? John Moore / Getty Images ?? Central American families walk toward Border Patrol agents Saturday near the Texas-Mexico border at La Joya. ICE says an $86.9 million contract with Endeavors Inc. provides about 1,200 hotel beds where families generally stay less than 72 hours for processing.
John Moore / Getty Images Central American families walk toward Border Patrol agents Saturday near the Texas-Mexico border at La Joya. ICE says an $86.9 million contract with Endeavors Inc. provides about 1,200 hotel beds where families generally stay less than 72 hours for processing.

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