Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect the contract’s correct term.

The Virginia-based company that’s been awarded multi-million-dollar federal contracts to help reunite separated migrant families across the country will also run El Paso County’s migrant services center.

The Providencia Group, a humanitarian operations and disaster response company, was recently awarded a $6.9 million contract by the El Paso County Commissioners Court to set up, staff and run the Migrant Support Services Center through the end of the year. The center will primarily help coordinate travel arrangements for migrants who have family or other sponsors across the United States waiting for them – and the funds to get there.

“What we’re setting up will relieve some of the pressure and give CPC a little more capacity to handle those who may not be lined up with a sponsor or have the funds to set it up to get to where they’re going,” County Administrator Betsy Keller said during the Sept. 19 commissioners’ meeting where the contract was unanimously approved.

The U.S. Border Patrol’s El Paso Central Processing Center, or CPC, has been overflowing with migrants, who are then processed and released primarily to area nonprofit shelters. More than 1,200 migrants were released to the streets of Downtown over a week earlier this month when the CPC and all area shelters were at capacity.

The county’s Migrant Support Services Center, which could open as early as Oct. 10, will be housed in an 8,000-square-foot warehouse near the El Paso International Airport on the East Side. Commissioners also approved a $146,000 a year lease with Halloren Family Joint Venture LLC, as well as a $10,000 down payment, for use of the building.

The agreement with Providencia is still being finalized, but county officials said they’re looking at a one-year contract renewable for a second year if necessary. The center will operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily with 20 to 40 staff members per shift, assisting 250 migrants daily the first month and scaling up to about 600 thereafter, according to county documents.

Officials with Providencia could not be reached for comment.

Federal reimbursements

The city government and the Office of Emergency Management opened a Migrant Welcome Center in the Northeast on Sept. 3, helping transport migrants out of the region primarily via chartered buses. That center is set up in a city-owned building and is being run by city and OEM staff.

While the county’s center will help those migrants with funds and sponsors, the city’s center will shift its focus to those who don’t have the means to get to other cities.

Both the city and county are seeking reimbursement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which the local governments are petitioning for faster processing than the current quarterly schedule. FEMA recently notified the county it will receive advance funding for $6.3 million to cover the majority of the center’s cost for the first year, officials told El Paso Matters.

The city government received a notice of advance funding for $2 million, city leaders have said.

Both centers will help transport migrants out of the region, but neither will serve as an overnight shelter. Migrants who need to spend the night in El Paso will be referred to area nonprofit shelters or, if needed, hotels being run by the Office of Emergency Management.

County Commissioner Carlos Leon said he was pleased with the selection process and the county stepping up to help – but not without first saying local governments are doing the work of the federal government.

“This is a federal government problem that has turned into a local, municipal and community challenge,” Leon said. “We are in a tough situation here but we’re working to make sure everybody is welcome and treated humanely.”

Border Patrol officials have said they’ve been apprehending between 900 to 1,300 migrants a day in the El Paso sector – most recently with a majority from Venezuela.

Providencia’s multi-million-dollar contracts

Providencia was selected to run the county’s Migrant Support Services Center largely based on its experience working with humanitarian missions, county officials said.

The Providencia Group has received at least eight federal contracts totaling more than $305 million since 2020, the majority of those funds for work with migrant family reunification, refugee resettlement and translation services, according to USA Spending, which tracks federal contracts and spending.

That includes a more than $199 million contract for work with unaccompanied migrant children from the Department of Health and Human Services under the Refugee and Entrant Assistance Administration for Children and Families. The company on its website touts an emergency influx shelter it runs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area under a sole-source federal contract awarded in March 2021.

In El Paso County, Providencia was selected from among five vendors pre-screened and certified by the General Services Administration, an independent government agency. The federal government through the GSA can access those companies’ products and services at pre-negotiated costs. State and local governments were authorized to use GSA contracting at the start of the pandemic in early 2020 as part of the public health emergency response.

The other GSA vendors who submitted proposals to El Paso County include Chicanos Por La Causa, Grafton, Vighter and Endeavors.

El Paso Matters in June reported that the county appeared to be in no-bid contract negotiations with Endeavors, a company cited in a federal investigation for the controversial way it landed and handled a multi-million dollar contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement last year.

The county denied it was in such negotiations, but a week later commissioners authorized staff to request proposals from contractors certified by the General Services Administration.

El Paso native Cindy Ramirez has spent most of her career in journalism, with some stints in public and media relations and military reporting. She's covered everything from education to local government...