Millions of dollars were wasted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on unused El Paso hotel beds for detained migrants, according to a new report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General.
Between April and June 2021, the federal agency spent more than $9 million on unused beds at an El Paso Best Western and a Comfort Suites used to house detained migrant families, the April 12 report found. All together, the agency paid approximately $17 million for unused beds at the six Texas and Arizona hotels it converted into temporary migrant detention facilities.
The report additionally found that Endeavors, the San Antonio-based contractor overseeing the hotels, failed to follow COVID-19 protocols with the migrant families, many of whom were staying at the hotels while in quarantine after testing positive for the virus.
ICE was not justified in awarding a controversial no-bid contract worth $87 million to Endeavors, according to the report, which cited a lack of experience by Endeavors in providing the services for which it was contracted.
The inspector general’s office findings are “unsurprising” and validate what immigrant advocates have been saying for months, according to Javier Hidalgo, director of pre-removal services — which includes family detention services — at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). Hidalgo visited one of the contracted hotels in Pearsall, Texas in August 2021, and his colleague Mariana Sarmiento Riaño visited the El Paso hotels that same month.
“This was a huge waste of money,” Hidalgo said. “I think it was very questionable how and why Endeavors got this contract to run these hotels.”
He said the report findings make clear that the hotel detention approach is not an appropriate way to deal with migrant families entering the country.
ICE has closed the hotels as of this March, and is in the process of transitioning migrant families to “alternatives to detention programs,” according to a response from ICE included in the report. “Alternatives to detention” often entail the use of electronic ankle bracelets, Hidalgo said.
ICE, however, has not ruled out the future use of hotels for immigrant detention.
“Should ICE’s requirement for housing migrant families change in the future, then ICE will conduct an assessment to appropriately determine the housing needs of families before entering into a similar or new contract,” the ICE response cited in the report said.
Hidalgo said this caveat is “scary” in light of the lifting of Title 42 in late May, a public health order that has been used since March 2020 to rapidly expel migrants at the border. DHS officials anticipate an increase in the amount of migrants arriving at the border following the order’s end.
“I think it’s concerning that ICE kind of leaves that option open,” he said. “Because it is a distinct possibility and a fear that … they can invoke this mission need, and start detaining families again.”
ICE justified the rapid awarding of the contract to Endeavors because of a “unique and compelling urgency” based on increasing numbers of migrants arriving at the border in spring 2021, according to the report.
“When the federal government sought help to address the influx of migrants at our southern border, Endeavors answered the call,” wrote an Endeavors spokesperson (who declined to be named) in an email to El Paso Matters.
The company agreed with ICE’s response to the report, which argued that Endeavors had followed protocols appropriately and met the required standard of care, the spokesperson wrote. The spokesperson declined to provide information about the total number of unused beds at the two El Paso hotels, and did not respond to questions about future plans for hotel detention linked to the lifting of Title 42.
An ICE spokesperson declined to be interviewed about future plans for hotel detention on the border.