Take an inside look at an undocumented immigrant children's shelter
This story has been updated.
Defense contractors working on facilities for migrant children separated from their parents at the border have gone on a hiring spree over the past few days, giving a glimpse into the inner workings of an opaque system that even members of Congress have had trouble accessing.
The Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy for people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has come under fire as the numbers of children in government custody swell. Under the policy, adults are charged with improper entry, and their children are placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and funneled into a system for unaccompanied migrant children.
Recent news reports revealed that some children are being housed in a tent facility in Tornillo, Texas, near El Paso. Other tent cities have been proposed in Abilene and San Angelo to accommodate the crush of youngsters separated from their immigrant parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. There are concerns that planned tent cities will rely on major defense contractors, The Daily Beast reported.
MVM, a Virginia-based defense contractor, had 18 listings posted for Texas-based jobs, 11 in the last week (the company later removed them after outcry and multiple press inquiries). One, a "youth travel escort," promises a job working with children ages 13 to 17, ranging from "same-day trips" to "long overnight trips to other shelters." The travel escorts must be 21 or older with a high school diploma, bilingual in English and Spanish and the ability to pass a background check. A candidate must be able to exert "up to 20 pounds of force frequently to move objects."
The lead youth care worker, also required to be 21 or older, will supervise eight youth care workers and do "spot checks." The lead youth care worker will also do "spot checks of all common areas" and track the inventory of the children's clothing daily. They are required to "resolve issues as they arrive in an appropriate manner with little or no supervision from upper management."
Security guards are required to have a high school diploma and one year of work in security or the military.
MVM has since removed the job postings and issued a response to the Star-Telegram and other news outlets saying it has not "pursued any new contracts associated with undocumented families and children since the implementation of the current policy." Its contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement began in 2017, it said, and requires "readiness."
MVM's Director of Homeland Security & Public Safety Division, Joe Arabit, said that MVM's work is and has been in the transportation of the unaccompanied children rather than their sheltering. In response to a list of questions about the transportation practices, Arabit said the company does not use restraints and treats the children in a "safe, dignified and compassionate manner." He did not answer the Star-Telegram's other questions, including whether or not MVM subcontracted for vehicles to transport the children, what kind of vehicles were used for transport, the worker-to-child ratio during transport and whether the vehicle drivers were actual MVM employees.
In another job posting, General Dynamics is looking for a bilingual social worker who will support the effort of the Office of Refugee Resettlement by providing "children in need with critical resources to assist them in becoming integrated members of American society."
That position, which pays about $65,000 a year, reviews the cases of unaccompanied migrant children.
On Tuesday, General Dynamics told the Star-Telegram in a company statement that their General Dynamics Information Technology unit has worked with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, since 2000 to provide services to unaccompanied migrant children.
These services include helping youngsters meet medical requirements and facilitating family reunification after children are under the care of Health and Human Services.
"General Dynamics Information Technology has no role in the family separation policy, nor a role in the construction or operation of detention facilities," according to the company statement.
MVM is best known for providing security contractors to intelligence agencies, particularly during the surge days of the Iraq War. The company lost the better part of its C.I.A. contract in 2008 after failing to provide enough armed guards, per Wall Street Journal reports. General Dynamics, one of the country's top defense contractors, is known for its work on defense systems such as jets and submarines.
Complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Labor in April accuse General Dynamics of underpaying about 10,000 workers by about $100 million.
Jennifer de Haro, managing attorney with the organization RAICES, said the situation makes many immigrants apprehensive. “I think they just see that immigrants are under attack from this administration,” said de Haro, whose organization represents people seeking asylum.
“It’s another anti-immigrant thing that doesn’t make them feel that the process or system is getting any more fair."
Meanwhile, in North Texas, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has indicated efforts to house migrant children.
Activists have fought back at the contractors, organizing boycotts. For example, Sleeping Giants, a boycott campaign on social media, has been posting information about private companies that provide services for migrant children for the government. Postings include advertisements for jobs that offer some clues about services aimed at these youngsters.
The migrant child situation fueled concerns by people worried about the children of families fleeing dangerous conditions in Central America. Many are worried about the children and want to find an alternative.
"It is very sad," said Nick Argueta, president of the Asociacion Salvadorena Americana in North Texas. "The children are not old enough to understand what is happening."
Argueta's group, founded in the Dallas area in 1991, is monitoring the border situation and calling for dialogue between Central American countries and the United States.
"This is not the way to solve the problem," he said.